Unicef urges empowerment of women to end child marriages

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Geneva, Switzerland - September 3, 2020: Headquarters of the Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia of the UNICEF, a UN agency created in 1946 to improve children's condition worldwide.

BY PRIDE MZARABANI
THE United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has urged the country to invest more on women empowerment in order to protect girls from child marriages.

In a statement on Tuesday, Unicef said support of behavioural change programmes in communities will also assist women to realise their full potential.

“Ending child marriages in Zimbabwe and protecting girls against the negative consequences of early marriage needs more than only legislation. It needs behavioural change in the communities. Community leaders and influential elderly women are called to advocate in their communities against child marriages,” read the Unicef statement.

“To end child marriages, the perception of the role of women in society needs to change. Unicef and its partners are calling for people in Zimbabwe to understand that the role of women should not be reduced to being mothers; women need to be given the possibility to develop their full potential as equal members of society.”

Unicef states that one in three women in Zimbabwe aged 20 to 49 years are married before the ages of 18, while 5% of girls are married before turning 15.

“In Zimbabwe, one woman aged 20-24 out of four women gives birth before the age of 18 years. Exacerbated by COVID-19 restrictions and the mandatory school closures, Zimbabwe has recently experienced an increase in teenage pregnancies. One-third of maternal deaths occur amongst adolescents.”

Unicef also said: “Poverty is a major correlation between child abuse and exploitation, including child marriage. Girls in the poorest communities are six times more likely to experience child marriage than their counterparts in higher wealth quintiles.”

They applauded the recent Constitutional Court judgement to outlaw child marriages and the increase of the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18 years.

A report released yesterday by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) shows that nearly a third of all women in developing countries begin childbearing at the age of 19 and younger, while nearly half of first births to adolescents are by children or girls aged 17 and younger.

In the report, the UNFPA executive director Natalia Kanem said: “Governments need to invest in adolescent girls and help expand their opportunities, resources, and skillsets, thereby helping avoid early and unintended pregnancies.”