Give them books not husbands

Political violence is rearing its ugly head once again on the Zimbabwe’s political scene. This has been witnessed in both the Norton and Chimanimani by-elections and this trend is likely to increase as the nation draws closer to the 2018 elections. Having lived through the violence of 2008 and the negative effects it had on society, no sane person would want to experience this again in their life. It is the same feeling one gets when told that a “surrogate currency” called bond notes is being introduced in Zimbabwe at par with the US Dollar. Some things are a NO NO and should be unthinkable. We should learn from our rich history of how not to do things. 

In 2008, Zimbabwe’s education system lost nearly 10,000 teachers fleeing political violence in the rural areas and the economic state of the country, and women were raped and displaced because their spouses were known or suspected sympathisers of the opposition. Many school-going children lost an entire year of studies in 2008 and this explains why so many young people in their twenties can’t read and write, and yet we are supposed to be the most literate country on the continent.

But while we mourn the escalation of political violence yet again, the form of violence and terrorism that is experienced every-day in the disguise of culture is the harmful practise of child marriages. Congratulations to the Zimbabwean civil society for coming up together and lobbying government to legislate towards the ending of child marriages and all forms of gender based violence in our society. This piece of legislation will go a long way towards ridding society of diabolical cultural practices that rob young girls their innocence and perpetuate the vicious cycle of poverty amongst women. 

But having the piece of legislation is only the beginning of a bigger campaign ahead, a campaign to educate society that has lived through these cultures and see nothing wrong with them. Just recently Minister of Education, Lazarus Dokora, acknowledged that at least 4500 school children dropped out of school and attributed this drop-out to early marriages. These statistics tell us that most of these marriages occurred due to teen pregnancies and this is not a phenomenon attributed to poverty only or prevalent in the rural or poor families. Child marriages are taking place even in the most affluent places in our societies right under our noses. 

What these young girls need are books and resources in schools to empower them and not marry them off. Children should be allowed to be children. The legislation against child marriage only sets the tone but a war against child marriages and other harmful practises needs to be declared and adequate resources channelled towards it. In 2016, the Ministry of Education was allocated $810.43 million of the $4 billion national budget translating to 20%. As such civil society needs to join forces as they did in the campaign that resulted in the enactment of the legislation to lobby government to increase the vote on education to at least 30% of the cake to reflect the magnitude of the war ahead. The school system must also include education about this heinous crime in the curriculum to start influencing attitudes about this culture, and the government must ensure that girls remain in school.

As Zimbabwe joins the world in marking the 16 Days of gender activism, let us remember the young girls who have been robbed their innocence and married off and work on strategies that will help them go back to school to pick up the pieces.

 

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