The United Methodist Church’s Ministry with Women, Children and Youth for the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area recently embarked on a 15-day outreach campaign against violence and childhood marriages now rampant among teenagers in the southern African country.
In Zimbabwe, one in five girls marries before age 18, often resulting in maternal mortality, sexually transmitted disease and domestic violence.
The campaign was conducted during the annual women’s conventions. The women met in late August in four locations across Zimbabwe.
The campaign targets girls between the ages of 9 and 20.
“As the church,” said Rebecca Tendai Gurupira, “we are equally disturbed with the rise in … early dating and childhood marriages that continue to increase each day.” She coordinates the ministry with women, children and youth.
Although parents and institutions have participated in similar campaigns, Gurupira added, the church needs “to take advantage of women’s gatherings and help the girl child understand the risks associated with the practice.
“We are not alone in the fight against child marriages, but it is to our advantage if we can utilize these conventions as platforms to educate the girl child from a Christian perspective.”
Gurupira said it was disturbing that some institutions who are supposed to be the custodians of moral values have become the perpetrators of these crimes.
“Some parents and churches, as well, who are supposed to be protecting the girls, are being tempted into pushing young girls into early marriages for various reasons,” she said.
Mary Moyo, who participated in the campaign, said she had benefited from the initiative, as most children were not aware of the repercussions of child marriages.
“I am pleased with such an arrangement that the church has taken it upon itself to educate the girl child about the risks associated with getting into early child marriages,” she said.
Caroline Mutsago, advocacy and grassroots organizer, said early child marriages have serious health implications that result from early conception by teenage girls.
She noted the “high maternal mortality rate, especially in girls who give birth below the age of 15. Parents need to be educated on the matter if we are to fight this scourge,” she said.
Mutsago said besides the threats of maternal mortality and sexually transmitted diseases, domestic violence is cause for concern.
Quoting from Mark 10, Oline Chigwizura said children were a special asset in the eyes of the Creator and deserve to be treated decently.
“Children have a special place in God’s heart,” she said, “and anyone who harms a child is inviting a cursing.”
In January 2016, the Zimbabwe High Court ruled that Section 22 of the Marriages Act was unconstitutional and, therefore, “no person … should be married before the age of 18.” Before that ruling, girls could marry at 16, boys at 18.
Plan International, a nongovernmental organization, has been working with communities to educate traditional leaders, media and national governments about the dangers of child marriage.
Chingwe is communications coordinator for the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference.