ONE in three girls in Zimbabwe under the age of 18 is ushered into early marriages, which has resulted in high maternal mortality rates, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) has revealed.
Last month, the UN called on government to enforce laws on child sexual abuse following the death of Nokutenda Hwaramba (15), Anna Machaya (14) and Ferby Munyafi (15) who died while giving birth.
In a report to mark the International Day of the Girl Child, Unicef said girls who are ushered into early marriages are at a high risk of dying while giving birth.
“Young mothers are at a higher risk; especially where no medical care is provided. One woman out of three was married before the age of 18. According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat), 33.7% of girls under 18 are married. This is one in three under 18 years of age,” read the Unicef report.
Girls Not Bride organisation; in its report stated: “Child marriage is more common in rural areas of Zimbabwe. Available data from the 2014 MICS indicate that 40% of women aged 20-24 living in rural areas, compared to 19% in urban areas, were married or in a union before the age of 18.”
The report also highlighted that 2% of boys in Zimbabwe are married before the age of 18.
Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) said child protection in the country still remains low, with approximately 5% of girls being married before the age of 15.
“The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the plight of unpaid care work which has stripped women of their dignity and opportunities to participate and engage meaningfully in decision making platforms.
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“In a recent but sad development, a 15-year-old girl died whilst giving birth at an apostolic shrine. Her death is in direct contravention to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.
“This is also despite the adoption of the Child marriage Act which prohibited marriage of children under the age of 18 and the Constitutional Court ruling which set the legal age of sexual consent at 18 years. A lot of children are being ushered into early marriage, 5% of girls under the age of 15 are married,” Zimcodd said.
According to the UN’s International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) annual report for 2021, Zimbabwe has weak child protection systems.
Unicef reported that 4, 8 million Zimbabwean children live in poverty, and 1, 6 million of them live in extreme poverty.