EDITORIAL COMMENT: Society must shun child marriages

Marriage

Marriage is a sacrosanct union. It is life-changing, a commitment for life which two parties — a man and a woman — must enter into on the basis of mutual love. Parties to it must be informed of the significance of the union and its possible implications on their lives and social standing.

In addition, it must be a relationship between consenting adults not between minors or a minor and an adult. No one must be forced into it.

For these reasons and more, we condemn a Shurugwi woman (44) who forced her daughter (15) into marrying a man almost three times older than her and hail the resident magistrate, Mrs Evia Matura, for punishing the two adults.

As we report elsewhere in this issue, Mrs Matura jailed the mother, whom we cannot name to protect the identity of the minor, for five months and sent Jelias Nyika (40) away for 24 months for taking the child as his wife.

These are probably some of the first, if not the first convictions of adults who marry off or get married to minors since the Constitutional Court made a landmark ruling banning child marriages in January last year.

The marriage lasted only one night but we regret that it took place at all. Also, we regret that Nyika was busted having already, in our opinion, sexually abused the minor, not after having sex with her. It is most unfortunate that he did so as the child’s mother stood guard at his door-step, apparently to witness and then satisfy herself that indeed, the “marriage” between her child and Nyika had been consummated.

The 15-year-old’s mother pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five months in prison although she had argued in mitigation that she had no sinister intentions when marrying off her daughter. She had said that she thought she was securing the future of her child by giving her to Nyika. The 44 year-old said she was ill and could die soon hence thought it sensible for her to find a husband to look after her daughter.

“I’m of ill health. I have continuous headaches and so I thought I would die and my child would have no one to look after her. When he married her, she was in school and had promised to further her education,” she said.

On the night of January 12 she took her daughter to Nyika’s home and he promptly sexually abused the girl. On the following day, the girl’s grandmother reported the two to the police, leading to their arrest.

In its landmark ruling last year, the ConCourt struck off the statutes Section 22(1) of the Marriages Act, which permitted children under the age of 18 years to formally get married. It ruled that Section 22(1) of the Act was inconsistent with Section 78(1) of the Constitution, which sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage in the country. The ruling was made following an application filed by two Harare women challenging the Customary Marriages Act.

Child marriage is retrogressive in many ways and must never occur.

It commodifies a girl. In many cases, parents, claiming poverty, marry off their children in exchange for food. The daughter is reduced to an object that can be transacted or barter-traded in much the same way as a cow for the owner of that animal to receive a few bags of maize, or someone paying a dollar and getting a loaf of bread in return. This is dehumanisation of the worst order.

Additionally, child marriage violates the girl’s rights to freedom of association and freedom to decide her future. Every human being should be left to decide who to associate with, where and when and his or her future yet the Shurugwi mother and Nyika struck a deal, rather decided between themselves to put the girl into a marriage without her consenting to the arrangement. Even if she had consented, the consent was certainly not informed at all, thus was invalid.

Child marriage perpetuates the highly objectionable second-rate status that our society generally accords women. It is sad in the Shurugwi case that another woman, the mother of all women, played a role in perpetuating that injustice. In most cases where children are married off, it is almost always to a much older man, who has some social and economic clout.  Because the girl is young, she often lacks an education and does not own anything. She is just forced into a relationship into which she brings nothing more than her physical body, of course, minus her humanity, which she loses as soon as she is forced into a marriage.

Such marriages are based on a non-existent foundation, for lack of a better word, not on mutual love. Often they soon collapse.

“With effect from January 20, 2016,” the ConCourt ruled, “no person, male or female, may enter into marriage, including an unregistered customary law union or any other union including the one arising out of religion or religious rite, before attaining the age of eighteen (18) years.”

It is saddening that despite this clear ruling, some people continue to force minors into marriage. We suspect more cases are happening across the country’s traditional settings and in some religious groupings. Society must reject such injustice as did the Shurugwi grandmother and the court that punished the perpetrators.

Article Source: The Chronicle