Dr Linda Haj Omar
The Children’s Act states that “A child is anyone under the age of 16.” Subsequently, the law clearly states that an adult is a person above the age of 18.
According to UNICEF, child marriage is “any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.”
Unfortunately, child marriage impacts on average one in five girls today.
Approximately 12 million child marriages occur each year, according to UNICEF.
Child marriages can either be voluntary or involuntary, however, it is a human rights violation.
These marriages affect both parties, especially the girl child.
Additionally, it restricts girls from achieving their potential in education, social bonding, friendship, simple maturation and the right to choose a life partner. (Hayden, 2021).
Hayden (2021) states in his article that girls who marry young face great health risks. It has been discovered that child marriage is most of the time driven by poverty and as a result, it has many effects on girls’ health.
These effects include inter alia; increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, death during childbirth and obstetric fistulas.
Zimbabwe banned marriage for children under 16 years old in 2016 and subsequently, the practice is on a steady decrease.
However, child marriage is still persistent in most impoverished areas in the country.(Mapingure, 2015). This is because due to the lack of basic commodities such as food and clothes, many low-income families choose to marry off their child. Many marriages result in some type of transactional agreement as perpetrators take advantage of impoverished families by giving them money in exchange for their daughters.
According to Human Rights Watch, global data shows that girls from 20 percent of the poorest families are twice as likely to marry before the age of 18 compared to those from the richest families.
This emanates from the traditional perception that girls are financial burdens rather than potential wage earners. Therefore, one less daughter means one less person to feed, clothe, and educate. The article released by Berkley Economic Review in 2018 reveals that girls are even
used as a substitute for money to offset debts and settle conflicts.
The article states that incidences of child marriages increase after humanitarian crises like wars and natural disasters, as families faced with poverty and violence use the practice for survival.
In fact, nine out of the ten countries with the highest rates of child marriage can be classified as fragile states of developing countries with weak state capacities that are incapacitated to protect their vulnerable citizens.
It has been discovered that the creation of conditions that perpetuate child marriage in impoverished societies is directly linked to the parental preference for sons over daughters.
This was stressed in the article “Child Brides” published in the Journal of Economic Behaviour & Organisation.
Therefore, it has been concluded that due to parents preferring a son to a daughter, couples invest fewer resources in caring for their young daughters, so more males survive to traditional marriage age than females.
This leads to a gender ratio imbalance, causing some men to turn to younger girls to find a bride. The article analyses data from India to support its theory (Berkley Economic Review, 2018).
The Criminal Law Act states that having sexual intercourse with a minor is illegal and is a criminal act.
Furthermore, according to the first global study on the economic cost of child marriage held in London, this human rights violation also has a major negative impact on national economies.
Economic Impacts of Child Marriage research demonstrates that the biggest economic impacts of child marriage are related to fertility and population growth, education, earnings and the health of children born to young mothers.
The study highlights that investments in ending child marriage can help countries achieve multiple development goals.
Medlico Research and Training Centre, intends to contribute to the eradication of child marriages by conducting evidence-based research and developing recommendations that could assist policymakers in decision-making.
To ensure community development, Medlico intends to empower the girl child by carrying out community outreaches using information from the research.
Education is power, teaching both parents and children in the most affected communities would enlighten the whole community on the protection of the future of the girl child and its benefits thereafter.
The more the community sees that more harm than good is being done through marrying off the girl child, they will be influenced to make better and more informed decisions.
Medlico would like to empower people in disadvantaged communities through the introduction of small projects for community-based initiatives such as handicrafts or agriculture that could be a source of income for less privileged families.
Subsequently, families would not resort to marrying off their daughters at an early age to eradicate poverty.
On that note, Medlico Research and Training Centre engages in collaborations with existing organisations, donors, civil society and corporates to help assist in funding these projects to create sustainable livelihoods in disadvantaged communities. By ending child marriage, countries could increase their national earnings on average by 1 percent.
We believe everyone has a role to play in putting an end to child marriages and it starts with YOU!
Dr Linda Haj Omar is the Founder and CEO of Medlico Research & Training Centre.
For more information/ inquiries Visit: 4 Lanark Belgravia, Harare —Zimbabwe.
Tel: (+263) 242 702326/7 WhatsApp: +263 777 553011/12 Email: [email protected]