Feature: It took extraordinary will to escape jaws of abuse

Opinion & Analysis
She can easily be passed for 50, as life’s misfortunes at the hands of her abusive husband and his family and working in the fields all the time have taken a heavy toll on her.

BY VANESSA GONYE FIGHTING back tears, Nelia Simon from Chivhu narrates the harrowing ordeal she endured under her husband who married her at the age of 13.

At 37, she is a mother of eight, the first being twins born while she was only 14.

She can easily be passed for 50, as life’s misfortunes at the hands of her abusive husband and his family and working in the fields all the time have taken a heavy toll on her.

On September 28, 2021, Simon and her children decided never to return home where they had been subjected to abuse for 24 years.

They left with nothing, just the clothes they were wearing on the day.

“I was married at 13 after I left school at Grade 4. I have been subjected to beatings and abuse together with my children by my husband,” she said.

“It was unbearable and I suffered some injuries on my arm and he would always hit me with thick sticks. We fled the house and were given shelter by some well-wishers.”

She got medical assistance at Chivhu General Hospital after being referred there by Msasa Project, a centre that caters for gender-based violence victims.

Simon grew up in a Johanne Marange family, and was married off at a tender age. She stayed with her husband’s relatives, working in the field to supplement her husband’s income from his metal trade in Mbare.

However, she has been trying to get a share of what she worked for over the years she was married, but has been unlucky.

Simon says she helped her husband build a five-roomed house in Epworth, which the husband is refusing to give up.

Being illiterate, she was not aware of her right to a share of what they had in their marriage. The Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA) moved to assist her on the legal route, and was granted a share of what they owned together with the husband.

But trouble came when court officials assigned to her case started demanding bribes for them to act on the order given by the court.

“I have been assisted by WILSA and I am happy for that because I did not know I was entitled to a share of our matrimonial property,” she said.  “It is my wish to be given a share of our matrimonial home and part of what we worked for,” she explained.

“The messenger of court is demanding US$300 so that they can help me claim what I was granted by the court. They said they would take the property only on condition that I sell the cow which I am entitled to and to surrender all proceeds of the sale to them.”

Simon can count herself lucky to walk out of the marriage alive because many child marriage victims lose their lives during child birth.

Last year, the Johanne Marange sect was in the headlines after futile efforts to conceal the death of a young girl who died at their Marange shrine during labour.

The incident drew the attention of the international community which called for action on the church’s doctrines which make the marriage of young girls a normal practice.

The church’s doctrine goes against the national Constitution, which recently ruled that the age of consent is now 18 years, up from the previous 16.

Early this month, Tendai Biti, who successfully lobbied for the review of the age of consent, urged authorities to speed up the enactment of the law to protect children from sexual exploitation in line with the ConCourt ruling.

The ConCourt ruling gave the government 12 months to enact the law and Simon says she hopes that the law will protect the girl child from the abuse she endured.

“As a victim, my feeling is that the ruling was long overdue. I also feel that there must be mandatory jail sentences on paedophiles out there preying and marrying young girls.

“I also feel that parents who marry off their children also deserve to be punished by the law,” she said.

Shamwari Yemwanasikana co-ordinator Mejorie Nhamoinesu added: “We welcome the ruling. It brings an alignment of laws and removes confusion with regards to child marriages and age of consent.

“The five-year sentence will definitely help in reducing cases of child marriages as opposed to community service sentences we have been witnessing. We believe that it is the job of everyone to protect our children. The bigger responsibilities now lie in educating communities of the new ruling.”

Information and Publicity minister Monica Mutsvangwa recently said it was now incumbent upon Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi and Parliament to enact a law which protects children from sexual exploitation.

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