The Sunday News
Thobekile Khumalo, Sunday News Reporter
AFRICAN countries are working towards eradicating child marriages as part of concerted efforts to improve the girl child’s rights and gender equality, a Cabinet Minister has said.
In a telephone interview on Friday, Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister Dr Sithembiso Nyoni who was attending a women and traditional leaders’ conference on child marriages in Zambia said cases of child marriages were prevalent in most African countries.
The conference, which drew Ministers of Gender from eight African countries was held under the auspices of the Spotlight Initiative, a global United Nations joint programme supported by the European Union to tackle gender-based violence and vulnerabilities of women and girls.
“We met here in Zambia to look into the problem of child marriages upon realising that in most African countries the girl child is being forced into early marriage and to find out what traditional leaders say about this phenomenon.
“We need to mobilise communities against this ill practice and as such we had an engagement with traditional leaders to find out what they are doing to curb this as the custodians of communities and as African countries there is a need for us to work together,” she said.
Child marriage is a marriage or similar union, formal or informal, entered into by a child or youth under a certain age, typically 18.
Child marriages violate the rights of children and have widespread and long-term consequences for child brides and grooms.
Dr Nyoni said delegates were made aware of a Zambian custom, which entails men to claim marriage to an unborn girl child.
“In Zambia there are certain tribes whereby men have the audacity to claim marriage to an unborn girl child and even start grooming her to be his wife from a tender age and by the time she grows she will already know the person to marry.
Imagine a girl child growing up knowing that she’s going to get married to an elderly person, it violates her rights and dignity.
Thus Zambian chiefs have undertaken to get rid of this cultural practice as it is retrogressive to the development of the country,” she said.
Dr Nyoni said cases of child marriages were also prevalent in some parts of the country.
“There are provinces or areas where child marriages are most prevalent in the country and the reasons are largely due to the fact that the area is densely populated like in Mashonaland Central or the area is situated at the country’s border like Matabeleland South in places like Beitbridge and Plumtree as well as Manicaland.
“Matabeleland North and Bulawayo (provinces) have the lowest child marriage prevalence rates. It is, however, worth noting that child marriages are mainly caused by high rate of school drop-outs, poverty and culture,” she said.