By: Tinotenda Kabai
The issue of early child marriages has become rampant by the day with most cases being recorded in the country side of Zimbabwe. Several Interventions have been put in place by organizations such as Plan International, ROOTS and Katswe Sisterhood to put an end to early child marriages. This has engaged traditional leaders and communities where child marriages are rampant. Positive results have been yielded over the years with some communities embracing the need to do away with harmful socio-cultural practices and others still deeply engraved in the dictates of culture.
According to The State of the World’s Children report (2015) by UNICEF, the prevalence of child marriage stands as follows: Mashonaland Central 50%; Mashonaland West 42%; Masvingo 39%; Mashonaland East 36%; Midlands 31%; Manicaland 30%; Matabeleland North 27%; Harare 19%; Matebeleland South 18%; Bulawayo 10%. These statistics are an indication that there is a big problem and a lot needs to be done.
Child marriage persists because of prevailing religious and cultural norms that allow it to take place as an acceptable practice. These norms include arranged marriages, pledging girls to families to appease ancestral spirits, and poverty driven trade-offs in which girls are made to enter marriages by poor families in exchange for livestock and money.
As behaviour change is a process not an event, there is need for the development and further strengthening of existing behaviour change communication strategies by the Ministries of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Padare/ Enkundleni and Msasa Project to raise awareness on the harmful socio-cultural practices that are affecting young people especially the girl child.
Also to avert early child marriages a firm stance through the Ministry of Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs has to be taken to enact laws that give harsh prison sentences to perpetrators who consciously put young girls into marriage and which will be a message to would-be perpetrators, discouraging early child marriages.
As young people echoing the youth voice to the world, we should stand tall with the boy and girl child of today in denouncing early child marriages and call for total emancipation to decide for ourselves as the future is in our hands.
All these efforts will amount to reduced mortality at birth for both the mother and the child, associated with birth complications like the fistula with sexual debut delayed at all cost reducing the chances of the girl child contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) including HIV.
Demand creation for services that are required by young people is another area of concern. It is not like young people don’t want to take up services that would improve their sexual and reproductive health or that they don’t know where to access them. It is a fact some know and others don’t, which leaves a gap that requires attention.
Universal Access to prevention, treatment, care and support services has been hindered not only by lack of information among young people but poor service delivery on the part of service providers. One personal experience is related to HIV Testing and Counselling services (HTC), whereby at a public health institution a person has to wait for up to three hours before going through the process compared to a private institution where the same process is under taken immediately upon request. What might be the problem? Is it because of an unequal patient/ nurse ratio, poor remuneration or mere on job slacking on the part of the health workers that has frustrated some young people not to have efficacy in services offered by public health institutions, you are just left wondering but it’s a fact.
The task is upon the Ministry of Health and Child Care to interrogate the issue and ascertain whether nurses attending to young people are conducting their duties in a youth friendly manner, which will increase the uptake of services by youths to meet their Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health needs.
No leaf should be left unturned. Our peers, colleagues and relatives are seen wanting especially the girl child has had her education affected by the dangers of falling pregnant whilst in school. Even though she can leave school to give birth, take care of the child for a while and later on return to her studies, life will never be the same again for her.
A round of applause to the then Ministry of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture now the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education for coming up with Life Skills, Sexuality, HIV and AIDS Education Strategic Plan to ensure that comprehensive Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (ASRH) education is delivered to young people in the school setting.
In its positive manner to empower young people in school with adolescent, sexual and reproductive health knowledge, continued reports of unwanted teen pregnancies among young girls of school going age is still a problem yet to be rooted out.
This is just but the least, let it be well known that our plight is real and young people must stand tall and walk the talk to be the masters and mistresses of their destiny.
Tinotenda Kabai is the current Provincial Facilitator for Mash- East and National member of the Young People’s Network on Sexual Reproductive Health, HIV and AIDS. The compilation of this article expresses the views of the author in relation to Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health of young people in Zimbabwe.