Are child policies being implemented?

Edward Murphy’s Law is a popular adage that simply states that “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong” – if you give it a chance.

Children, many of who have had their rights tampered with, spoke on this during a three-day workshop on Child Sensitive Social Policies (CSSP) held late last year,  with junior Member of Parliament for Chivi, Honourable Tsitsi Bvumburai saying the country needed child-friendly  policies especially on early marriages.

“We are not happy with child marriages; these are marriages before the age of 18. These (marriages) impact negatively on the girl child to a great extent,” she says, explaining: “These marriages distract their progress and education and limits their opportunities. Customary law, especially in the rural areas, does not specifically say when one is eligible to be married and because of poverty, the children are forced to get married early.”

In the rural areas most parents are unemployed and cannot provide for their children and so the best option for them is to marry off their children, said Chief Mutangidzi from the same area.

“Young girls are traded off as a means for survival for a short time. In apostolic sects, girls are forced to get married to old men. The offences are hardly reported because the older men offer incentives that the parents cannot resist. However, as a chief myself, I am working with communities and other organisations to put a stop to this,” said the traditional leader from Masvingo province.

Dr Tendai Charity Nhenga-Chakarisa, who is the research board chair of the Women’s University in Africa and chair of the CSSP conference steering committee, confirmed the success of the conference, which is in its second year running since its inception in 2014.

“As an organisation we deal with child sensitive issues. In 2003 we started a post-diploma programme to train people working with children, for children. We train in the areas of health, social welfare, law, the economy. We are multi-disciplinary when it comes to child rights expertise,” she told this paper on the sidelines of the conference.

Statistics show that three out of 10 girls are married before the age of 18 while in Mashonaland Central 50% are married off before age of consent. About 14, 2 million girls in Africa get married off each year before they turn 18. If nothing is done a lot will go wrong for the girl child, she warned, giving weight to Murphy’s law.

And indeed this adage is proving true to most children in the country – according to experts on children’s issues.

Zimbabwe is in the top 40 countries worldwide with high child marriage rates.

According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2014, 32.8% of Zimbabwean women aged between 20-49 were married before the age of 18.

Currently, 24.5% of Zimbabwean women between 15-19 are in marriage.

Child marriage occurs more frequently among girls who are the least educated, poorest and living in rural areas.

However, the Constituional Court of Zimbabwe recently ruled that no child, both girls and boys, should be married before they attain 18 years.  Section 22 of the marriages Act actually stipulates that it is illegal to marry before that age.

This ruling has been highly commended by many organisations, including some sections of the Apostolic faith sects who have generally been renowned for marrying off young children.

Elizabeth Mupfumira, a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef)’s communications specialist, says the solution is straightforward – implementation.

“Stop child marriages, the young girls are being led down the garden path,” she says, explaining that prevalence is highest in Mashonaland Central (50%), followed by Mashonaland West (42%), and Masvingo (39%.)

Unicef said in line with international laws; governments have made some effort in putting in place various interventions through policy, with programmes to address the many problems children face.

However, the burgeoning number of children in need presents an increasingly complex situation for the country’s social services and other government departments.

Unicef   said the objective is to track and deliberate on child protection measures in all spheres of life with a view of strengthening child protection; promoting positive social norms in all contexts including development and to prevent and respond to violence, exploitation and abuse directed at children.

The United Nations has the right of health of children as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights Children and the African Charter on the rights and welfare of the child.

This is an inclusive right extending, not only to timely and appropriate healthcare but also to the underlying determinants of health such as access to potable water and adequate sanitation, adequate supply of safe food, nutrition, housing, health, occupational and environmental conditions and access to health related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health.

In this regard, research on children is encouraged and it allows all stakeholders to be part of that process. Dr Nhenga-Chakarisa said this  will prompt people to track children’s rights using research.

“We are also able to track children’s rights and offer interventions, and not only that, we check whether the interventions are working. We also look at the stumbling blocks and work on them,” she said.

“On our launch we look at the legal and policy framework on children, research on issues such as child marriage, child labour, sexual exploitation of children, prostitution, child birth registration and the intervention. We also look at budgetary allocations for children, which are the policy briefs researched by Unicef. This also includes health and education,” added Dr Nhenga- Chakarisa.

She stressed the need for indicators because the numbers are reported to the UN and the African Treaty Body.

CSSP is working on creating a pool of researchers of children’s issues and are part of a network created together with the University of Cape Town in South Africa at the Children’s Institute there.

“We have engaged people who are trained to analyse data and produce an analysis of child-focused policies and we build capacity for research of child-focused data and also advocacy activities,” Dr Nhenga-Chakarisa said.

National institutions, both public and private, are becoming aware of the socio-economic and cultural unsustainability of child marriages and the twin evil of teenage pregnancies.

Ms Mupfumira says child marriages occur more frequently among girls who are the least educated, live in rural areas, peri-urban and mining communities, orphaned or those that come from single-parent background.

The post-nuptial reality is harsh. Child brides face an elevated risk of domestic assault, sexual abuse and murder. The likelihood of their completing high school is slim and the only near certainty is that they will struggle with poverty for the rest of their lives.

In the past two years, there has been a unified global voice that is moving against child marriages. Even the United Nations is active in supporting the initiative.

At the 2014 UN General Assembly, a resolution was passed to end child, early and forced marriages, through the Girls, Not Brides Campaign.