By Caroline Chiimba | Binga, located in the Matebeleland north region of Zimbabwe is among some communal areas in Zimbabwe that has a higher number of female school dropouts necessitating child marriages, some by choice, yet others it is rather helplessness.
Gazing into the empty space through the cottage window in an almost empty room, is a 36year old woman from Binga who seems to be lost in her thoughts.
Siphathisiwe Mnkonka had visited her husband in the City, who is employed as a gardener at the Marningdale Suburbs earlier this year with the hope of getting school fees for her twin daughters who are supposed to be in form one this year.
“The fact that my daughters won’t be able to continue from grade seven to form one, is a deepest cut within my heart,” said Mnkonka, with tears almost pouring from her eyes.
“When my husband told me that the possibility of our daughters proceeding to form one were unlikely due to lack of finance, my heart sank, the glimmer of hope l had of my daughters having a brighter future than l, vanished.”
Mnkonka was a victim of child marriage as she got pregnant and married at the age of 14, and now she fears that the cycle will continue as her other two older daughters had already succumbed to child marriages at the ages of 15 while her last twin daughters might be faced with the same fate.
Mnkonka, who herself was deprived of an education during her time, narrates her ordeal to the world.
“When one of my daughters was impregnated by a married man at the age of 15, l could not report the case to the police with fear of being social outcasts despite the call by the government to do so,” she said.
“l had to watch my baby entering into polygamy. As if the first blow wasn’t enough, the other daughter also fell pregnant at a younger age and had to go to her in-laws place.”
“My daughter who got married at 15, is now 20,” added Mnkonka. “During the past years of marriage she encountered two miscarriages and suffered domestic violence at the hands of her husband’s first wife who accused her of stealing her husband and would assault her at any given time.”
“lt was a very painful phase for me as l could not call her back home looking at our financial standing. However, l’m glad now that she is all grown up and able to fight back.”
Mnkonka had to let go of her daughters with the fear of being mocked in a society where a girl’s place is her marital home. The marriage institution in the Tonga community remains strong and rigid yet polygamy is still highly practised with the perception that marriage will provide protection and family honour at the same time cementing cultural values and norms.
However, the education institution had struggled to penetrate the area as it is faced by a resilient force in form of poverty.
Most of the bread winners in the Tonga community are uneducated and whenever they come to seek for employment in City they are paid money that is almost next to nothing, resulting in them failing to meet educational costs for their children.
Unicef has observed that empowered and educated girls are better able to nourish and care for their children compared to their uneducated counterparts who are likely to be trapped in barbaric cultural practices.
According to statistics, 41 percent of girls are getting married before the age of 18 whilst data shows that 4percent of women aged 20 to 24 were married before the age of 15 while 34percent of them were married before the age of 18 in Zimbabwe.
It is proved beyond reasonable doubt that child marriages often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation.
“l wouldn’t want my child to associate herself with a girl who rashes into marriage because that would be a bad influence to her,” said one of the parents.
Child marriages often interrupts the girl child schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and placing her at an increased risk of domestic violence.
Ending Child marriages will help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty by allowing girls and women to participate more fully in society.
Poverty, lack of empowerment and education has today led to history repeating itself in Mnkonka’s family.
All of the Mnkonka four daughters went to school up to grade seven and dropped out afterwards due to financial constraints.
“Usually when a girl child drops out of school at an early age, the only thing she thinks about is marriage,” commented one of the teachers.
However, the discourse of women and girl empowerment through attainment of education continues to be echoed by Gender activists throughout Zimbabwe.
“We appreciate the stances by the government and gender activists to stop child marriages, but they should implement solutions that would protects the girl child and her family in societies that are still obstinate about issues of child marriages, thinking that it is their cultural right,” said Pluto Ntabande, a youth leader and author.
“Most of people in Binga are wallowing in poverty as they are struggling to withstand the harsh economic situation in Zimbabwe, thus marrying off their daughters have become a way out as fathers and maternal families perceive this as lessening their burden.”
In youth forums and discussion platforms, philanthropists have been urged to assist the Binga society in sponsoring their education and advising them on the importance of awarding their children an education so that we move together as a nation in eradicating the evil deed (child marriages).