If I Was a Bird, I Would Fly to My Mother
If I Was a Bird, I Would Fly to My Mother
“Dai ndiri shiri ndaienda kuna mai vangu
Dai ndiri shiri ndaienda kuna mai vangu…brrrr brrrr brrrr ndaienda kuna mai
vangu”. (If I was a bird I would fly to my mother [wherever she is]).
These are words from a Shona song, words that speak of inner turmoil of a tormented child. It is a song of despair, one that shows a child who has tried all that he/she can do, but to no avail. While the singer laments the absence of a mother, it can be deduced that the troubles being faced here do not stem only from the absence of the mother, but of the father too. This song conveys a disturbing message that is commonplace among young girls who are involved in child sexual labour, otherwise referred to as “Child Marriage”. A recently published study by the Research and Advocacy Unit shows that a huge proportion of girls who enter into child marriage, mainly do so against their will. They are forced by a combination of factors; chief among them is the separation, divorce or death of parents which more often than not, leads their abuse by step mothers or step-fathers following the remarriage of the surviving parent. Faced with the unholy mix of parental death/divorce, poverty, and virginity testing, the young girls have nowhere to run. And when the father eats his children, what shall the neighbours say?
The Prosecutor General of the whole of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Mr Johannes Tomana found it worthwhile to announce his thoughts on child sexual labour by saying that 12 year olds are women; they can consent to sex and should be married because they have nothing else to do!! A simple search for literature on the effects of child sexual labour shows that government departments, Non-State Organisations are replete with evidence and knowledge of the ill effects that sexual abuse has on society as a whole, more so children aged 12!
Child sexual abuse is driven by power, patriarchy and control more than unemployment of young girls. What employment do they need? They should be in school!! How such knowledge managed to evade the public protector is difficult to understand. Furthermore, I find it inscrutable that public protector can make public declarations which are at such a gross variance with his office’s purported function. When the father eats his children, what shall the neighbours do?
Poverty is so deep-seated across Zimbabwe, making it difficult for many families to make ends meet. Driven by record high unemployment, de-industrialisation, under-capitalisation of industry, and a less than favourable investment climate, poverty has become entrenched in the lives of the ordinary citizens. It smacks of extraordinarily warped thinking for one to say that girls should be married simply because they have nothing to do.
Who could have done the analysis for the Prosecutor General? Who saw that child sexual labour or “marriage” is the best solution for these stranded girls whose parents are dead, or are struggling to send their children to school because they themselves have no jobs to go to? Bearing in mind that the Prosecutor General is a major cog in “the long arm of the Law”, tasked with unearthing evidence when people break the law, it is surprising that the face of the office of the Prosecutor General could go on to proclaim that 12 year olds can consent to sex and marriage. They are 12 years old, not 18!! Somebody please wake me up if this is a terrible dream. I still do not get it.
While teenagers’ own mischievous eagerness to engage in premarital sexual relations cannot be discounted, it is of greater importance to realise that:
• Involvement in child “marriage” has long term harmful effects upon children with girls married to older husbands being physically and psychologically abused and raped repeatedly making them also more susceptible to maternal mortality;
• Involvement in child “marriage” has long term harmful effects upon children in terms of their health and educational prospects;
• Involvement in child marriages exposes children to social distain where they are looked down upon by society, their families and kin.
• Poverty drives young girls into transactional sex, and with it comes the unplanned pregnancies.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the African Charter on the rights and Welfare of the Child which seeks to protect children in ways that reflect African ideals. Article 21 of the Charter unequivocally seeks to protect Africa's children against child marriages, betrothal and urges countries to push the minimum age of marriage to 18. So is the sexual exploitation of children part of African ideals? I think not. Is it in line with the African Charter? I think not.
There has been widespread outrage because of the ill-advised pronouncement by the Prosecutor General. It is up to the authorities to decide what to do, given the abundance of data on the negative impacts of child sexual abuse. I believe what we need now is decisive leadership and increased political will at community and national levels. Rather than to spin words, play around with media saying so and so was misquoted or not heard fully, and hiding behind our fingers, leaders should go beyond playing lip service to child rights by saying yes to things that we despise and are unwilling to change.
If a father eats his children what can the neighbours do? It can only take a mother to speak and catalyse sanity. After the condemnation of child sexual abuse, we expect to see action that goes beyond verbal sentences. If a father preys on his own, the children shall sing “If I was a bird, I would fly to my mother”