Child marriage violates girls’ basic human rights. When girls are forced to marry, they often drop out of school, may face serious health complications and even death from early pregnancy and childbearing, and are at greater risk of HIV infection and intimate partner violence. They are often isolated, with limited opportunity to engage socially and to participate in the economic development of their communities.
Tragic consequences of child marriage also include economic opportunity and financial costs, costs for health care systems, lost education and earnings, lower growth potential, and the perpetuation of poverty.
A shameful story recently emerged from Zimbabwe when the country’s prosecutor general, Johannes Tomana proposed that little 12-year-old girls out of school and with no prospect in life because of the dire socio-economic conditions in the country should be allowed to have sex and get married.
He proposed this extraordinary solution to struggling families in an interview with the Bulawayo Chronicle.
“If you look at it, we don’t have a framework for example, where we can guarantee that all our girl children are usefully engaged before they actually get above 18 years, we don’t have that,” Tomana is quoted as saying
“We’ve nine-year-olds, 12-year-olds, 13-year-olds who’re actually not in school, who’re not doing anything for example. What are we saying to them?”
“We say you can’t even do this [have sex], when the environment is not giving them alternative engagements? What are we talking about?”
“You need to be able to be holistic about it. If we educate our girl child universally up to, for example, where they get to the age of 18 in an environment where you guarantee that they’re not abused, then we’re talking.”
“But to simply say ‘no such and such conduct’ for any girl say below the age of 16, I think we’ve not asked ourselves what we’re saying about that girl who would rather prefer to lead their life in the direction of getting married.”
“Should they just sit there and wait until they get to about 21 doing nothing? Is that what you’re saying? You don’t have anything that they should be engaged in while they wait to become the age.”
“What do you want them to do because in some cultures, for example, they value marriage more than anything else because when your girl child is married, you’ve achieved what any father or mother would want to expect in their girl child.”
“If, for example, we’re able to marry off our child at 15 and she’s married, are you saying that should not happen even where, for example, there’s nothing else that that girl could be doing? Is that what you are saying?”
“We need to look at it in a very practical, wholesome way, and I think it’s important to talk to the girl child. I want to say they’re very sensible people, and I know girls develop faster than boys and they mature faster than boys.”
“Are we saying we should continue talking on their behalf when they’re there? Do we just change these laws to suit ourselves and our dreams that have nothing to do with addressing the real conditions that they live in?”
Tomana also claimed that it was not practical to jail adults who have sex with “consenting” 12-year-old girls. In his view, the children would suffer with no one to take care of them while their abusers are incarcerated.
These statements are not acceptable in our societies. Now the question is how can we stop child marriages. Our writers at The African Exponent have crafted 5 ways in which child marriages can be reduced, which you can read here. It is also praise worthy to mention the weighty progress that has been done by young girls like Memory Banda. Memory is an 18-year-old Malawian who championed a successful national campaign that culminated in landmark legislation that outlawed child marriage in her country. In a recent talk for Tedwomen 2015 she discusses how she managed to escape the cycle that turns half of the girls in her southern African nation into brides, and often mothers, by the age of 18.
Watch her masterpiece here.