CHIEF Nyajina stood before the large gathering to deliver a vote of thanks at Nyashonjwa Primary School in Uzumba.
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
With a traditional staff in his hand, no one anticipated the bombshell he was just about to drop.
The gathering was meant to celebrate furniture donated to the school by Uzumba legislator Simbaneuta Mudarikwa recently, and the traditional leader took the opportunity to take his anti-child marriage campaign to a higher level.
“I do not have much to say about this donation but I would love to warn all those who are marrying young girls that I am against it and will take the perpetrators to the police,” he said, drawing wild cheers from the people.
The chief later thanked Mudarikwa for the donation before sitting down.
Chief Nyajina and his counterpart, Chief Chipfuwamiti, both from Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe (UMP) district have become the latest traditional leaders to intensify their anti-child marriage campaign in their areas.
“This issue of child marriages is a serious one. In this area we have the apostolic sects, especially Johane Marange, that are still practising this shameful act of marrying off young girls. But I am saying ‘no’,” he said.
Chief Chipfuvamiti, echoed similar sentiments and vowed to intensify the fight.
“The apostolic sect members are the ones leading the girl child exploitation in this area through child marriages. We are not allowing that and we will never rest until all the girls are saved,” he said.
UMP is one of the poorest districts in the country. The area is also characterised by an influx of illegal miners, popularly known as Makorokoza, particulaly the gold- rich banks of Mazowe River.
Child marriages are mainly fuelled by poverty, while traditional leaders blame religion as a major cause despite frantic efforts by the apostolic sects to sensitise their members on the illegality of the practice.
Chief Nyajina said their endeavours are being hindered on how some of the apostolic sects are “secretive” in their operations.
“However, the problem I am facing is that the sects are too secretive and everything is done within their confinements, hence, getting to know much of this abuse is not easy. We have met a number of young brides and if you want to ask them of anything related to their age and marriage, they even run away,” he said.
“Child marriages must end now. As traditional leaders, we are taking perpetrators to the police while we deal with those who impregnate young girls. I do not tolerate that. This practice is ruining young girls’ lives in that they drop out of school, lose their virginity and future.”
The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act makes it a criminal offence for anyone to promise a girl under 18 in marriage or to force a girl or woman to enter into a marriage against her will.
Zimbabwe joined the African Union Campaign to end child marriages in mid-2015. In 2016, the constitutional Court passed a landmark ruling outlawing child marriages.
To preach the gospel of anti-child marriages, Chief Nyajina said he uses every gathering to speak to the people as well as going to schools.
“I am happy that the people in this area are taking heed of this call. We are spreading the message day and night. At each gathering we spread that message. Moreover, in this area, we have a tradition of meeting on the fifth of each month with all the village heads and we talk over this. Also the councillors meet on the fifth of every month and we spread the same message. We also use funeral wakes for our anti-child marriage campaign and move around schools to alert the young girls of early marriages,” he said.
Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children programmes officer, Maxim Murungweni, hailed traditional leaders for protecting the girl child in rural areas. He, however, bemoaned the high prevalence of child marriages in the country.
“We are really happy and encouraged by the role traditional leaders are playing. These leaders have an obligation to protect children especially the orphans and vulnerable children through Zunde Ramambo and punishing child abusers. We encourage all traditional leaders to follow suit so that our children are protected,” he said.
“Despite these efforts, child marriages are still prevalent and there is need for a holistic approach to change social norms and behaviour that influence child marriages.”
Around 39% of girls in Africa are married before the age of 18 and 13% are married by the time they reach 15 years old according to Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe.
Plan International says three in 10 girls in Zimbabwe are married before they turn 18 years old.