There is something very powerful and also quite important to be found in hearing firsthand how those at risk feel about the issue they are facing. One of the things I tried to do this summer was to understand how these young women in Harare (WAP’s beneficiaries) feel about child marriage, since their voices, experiences, and ideas are key to any kind of solution.
I worked with WAP to carry out a survey of as many of the club members as possible. We spoke with 62 girls who have been attending their clubs for at least one month, and 19% of them have been at risk of getting married at some point (or are currently at risk).
About a month later, we returned to 3 of the clubs to ask girls to go into more detail about why they think child marriage is bad. The girls were asked: “in your opinion, what is the worst thing about child marriage?” This is a fairly open-ended question, and I hoped to get a better idea of what they – the demographic most at risk of this practice – felt was harmful about child marriage.
Here is a sample of some of the responses:
Lynn: The worst things about child marriage are that it contributes to abuse of one’s human rights. For example if a girl is forced to marry at the age of 15 she is forced to leave school and all her dreams will be shattered. Also child marriage can cause a lot of problems to one’s life such as diseases. If a girl is married to an old man there is a possibility of sexual abuse which causes domestic violence in most cases.
Emilia: Your husband will beat you because you are a child.
Kezia: As girls the worst thing about child marriage is that if you go to labor you can die because your bones are not strong enough and your baby could die. Also, you may not be able to provide for the family or you may not be able to cope with the stress of marriage.
Shamila: If you get married when you are a small child you might die during birth because your bones are not strong.
Tatenda: The worst thing about child marriage is that you can get HIV/AIDs or you cannot be able to hold your family together because you have no idea how to have children.
Shamiso: Child marriage is bad because it destroys our future as both girls and also boys. Especially if we look at most countries, women are not respected even if you are pregnant you are not given your rights, they are abused.
Clearly there are common themes in the responses, but also a range of risks and effects that might not be apparent to those with little knowledge of (or no experience with) child marriage. These girls are considering this issue from a position where they can stare it in the face and see how it might impact their lives. Many of them have friends and relatives who have been married before 18 – and again, some of them were married previously themselves.
I hope that in the future, girls in Zimbabwe can continue learning about child marriage and sharing their thoughts on why it is harmful, dangerous and unwanted. I feel like I am repeating myself but again, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet WAP’s club members this summer and to hear from them about their life experiences and opinions.
I truly feel that if their motivation continues to be harnessed through education, community-building, and skill-building, girls like these will be effective in bringing attention to this issue in their country and put a stop to it.