#EmpowerWomen to #EndChildMarriage, Five Questions for Five Role Models
UNICEF’s campaign to end child marriages has more than 4000 pledges, thanks to the support of role models empowering girls and women in their communities.
In Zimbabwe, one woman out of three is married before reaching adulthood, and more than one out of five adolescents give birth. Child marriage has a devastating impact on girls. Child marriage disrupts childhood and deprives girls of their right to be a child. Child marriage often leads to school drop-out, not allowing girls to develop their full potential, and too early pregnancies when a girl is mentally and physically unable to give birth and care for a young child.
That is why a year ago, UNICEF Zimbabwe launched a campaign to sensitise Zimbabweans about the impact of child marriage, calling for people to pledge to be role models in their communities to empower women and end child marriage. You can join the pledge here.
More than 4000 people have already signed up.
Amongst them, five role models explain why they joined the campaign.
- Ruvimbo Topodzi, founder of the Topodzi Foundation, is a child marriage survivor who went to the constitutional court to outlaw child marriage.
- Famous Zimbabwean musician and songwriter artist Selmor Mtukudzi a strong voice for women and girls’ rights.
- Lincoln Tatenda Bipiti, an 18-year-old UNICEF Zimbabwe Adolescent and Youth Advisory Committee (AYAC), advocates for ending child marriage.
- An adolescent mother, Isabel Mupatsa, is passionate about protecting and preventing young girls from going through the same experience.
- Rugby legend Tendai Mtawarira ‘the Beast’, Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, and an advocate for women’s rights.
UNICEF asked these five role models five questions about the empowerment of women and their role in UNICEF’s campaign to end child marriage.
1. Zimbabwe faces high levels of child marriage, impacting the lives of many girls and women in the country. What should be done to tackle this practice?
Ruvimbo advocates for the empowerment of the girl child with information. ‘Girls need to be made aware of the consequences of marriage at an early age. And we need to provide economic support and incentives to girls and their families to remove some of the main triggers of child marriage: poverty and economic dependence. Moreover, communities must be educated about the Marriage Act, which was adopted last year and criminalises child marriages. And we need to support networks and campaigns that act against child marriages in Zimbabwe.’
‘Education and economic empowerment are key to ending child marriage in our country,’ says Lincoln. Lincoln highlights the importance of sexual and reproductive health and life skills education, including adolescence friendly health services. According to Lincoln, women role models are potent influencers to create awareness among girls to develop their full potential.
Isabelle calls for strict enforcement of the Marriage Act. ‘People who practice child marriage should be brought before the court.’ But Isabelle argues that law enforcement alone is not enough. Girls need to be allowed to go to school and get educated. That will combat ignorance. Unfortunately, many parents do not have the resources to pay for their girls’ education. ‘Therefore, education must be free. That will prevent a lot of students from engaging in child marriages.’ Because Isabelle feels that child marriage is often linked to poverty and lack of economic opportunities. ‘The lack of jobs and money results in family members selling off their young girls to men to get money in return’.
According to Selmor, there is a need for more education and awareness: ‘We must continue to speak about it, to pass information to everyone. Awareness of child marriage and the need to end this practice must be spread all over the country. Everyone should know it is wrong to marry off a child.’
Tendai ‘The Beast’ highlights the importance of the recently adopted legislation by Zimbabwe which criminalises child marriage. ‘This is a significant step forward. We need to ensure the Act is now widely known in the country and implemented.’ But he knows that legislation on its own will not solve the issue: ‘We also need to tackle traditional beliefs that child marriage is good to ensure the future of a child; and more widely we need to change the perception of women in society and ensure that girls are allowed to develop their full potential, thereby not being married at a young age.’
2. What would you like to say to people that pretend that child marriage is a tradition that has always been around and should not be questioned?
Selmor: ‘There are many things that were considered tradition, which is now outdated and no longer practised. Tradition is not an excuse. Tradition and people evolve. When you know better, you change practices.’
According to Isabelle, we need to involve religious and community leaders to ‘unteach the old way of thinking’. These leaders are influential in societies. ‘They need to be informed how child marriage is bad and adolescent pregnancies can result in losing the child's life because the miner is not physically ready to give birth.’
Tendai ‘The Beast’ stresses that marriage is not good for children. ‘It jeopardises ’hildren's future, leads to school drop-outs and impacts children’s opportunity to develop their fullest potential. At macro level it impacts the development of communities and the entire nation. Therefore, parents and community leaders need to fight the practice of child marriage.’
‘The law needs to be respected,’ says Ruvimbo. ‘Everybody must adhere to it, particularly regarding issues affecting the girl child. We should all be champions in promoting the new Marriage Act and advocating against the harmful practice of marrying children.’
Lincoln: ‘The same way we have accepted changes in tradition in other areas of life, we now must understand that child marriage must stop. People must accept that girls should no longer be married before the rightful age.’ According to Lincoln, girls now have a role to play in the economic development of communities and the country. ‘So, it is high time we stop dwelling on the past. We must give all children the opportunity to develop their full potential.’
3. What would you like to say to a young girl who is being married today?
Isabelle would try to convince the girl to get away. ‘If she has somewhere to return to where she can be protected, she should try to go there. Because once married, the girl will get pregnant quickly; after the first baby, another will follow… This will affect not only the young girl’s life, but also her babies.’ Isabelle says the girl should consider the risks she takes by getting married.
Building on her own experience, Ruvimbo would say that the marriage is not the end of the girl’s life. I would convince her to keep dreaming and chasing her goals in life: ‘You can do much more with your life. If you are married, that does not mean you must leave school. You can continue your education! You need to be strong and believe in yourself.’
Lincoln agrees: ‘It is not the end of life. There is a future that needs to be embraced. Work towards it. Do not let marriage end your dreams in life. You can still pursue whatever you want to pursue.’
For Selmor, even if a girl agrees to marry, her life should not end there. ‘If it is your choice to be married, remember that there is more to life. Through education and hard work, you can build a future for yourself and achieve a lot. If it is not your choice, report the case to somebody, a relative or friend, who can help you out of the situation. There are existing support services to help you in your situation.’
Tendai ‘The Beast’ believes that girls should continue believing in their dreams and developing their potential to become the leaders of tomorrow's society.
4. Have you been confronted with cases of child marriage in your environment? How did it impact you?
According to Ruvimbo, it is sad to see how in our society, child marriages are rampant. ‘The economic situation makes the gild child dependent and extremely vulnerable to abuse. Too often our communities give a deaf ear to the situation while the girl child is experiencing physical, emotional and mental abuse through the marriage she is forced into. This has made me stand up and advocate for ending child marriages.’
Lincoln, too has seen many cases of child marriage happening around him. It has saddened him a lot. It has impacted his studies. That is why he decided to mobilise and advocate against child marriages.
‘I have been exposed to many cases of child marriage in my work with several organisations that fight child marriage,’ says Selmor. ‘It breaks my heart to see girls in this situation, to see their dream crushed and their ambitions fall away. That motivated me to be a strong advocate for ending child marriages ‘now’.’
‘I did not personally witness child marriages in my community growing up. Maybe because the issue was not so widespread at that time, compared to now,’ says Tendai ‘The Beast’. ‘I got very concerned when I first started hearing about children being forced into relationships and marriage because it is bad for the children and the community.’ That is when Tendai ‘The Beast’ decided to raise his voice and became involved in the fight against child marriage. He believes that men should act because their involvement will make the biggest change the. ‘I want all of us to fight what I would call ‘an evil practise’ that is so unjust to many young girls because it stops them realising their dreams. I want to be a voice behind finding a solution to this urgently.’
Isabelle has witnessed many cases of child marriage and adolescent pregnancies in her community. ‘Recently, I met with a girl from form 1 who got pregnant. She gave birth, and she decided to continue her school. But her boyfriend refused to accept that he was the father. The girl was left alone, without any perspective of co-parenting. It affected her psychologically.’ Isabelle wonders whether the girl will find the strength and resources to care for the baby and continue her education.
5. What inspired you to be part of the #EmpowerWomen #EndChildMarriage campaign?
Ruvimbo joined UNICEF’s campaign because she wanted to share her experience, and she wants her voice to be heard so that changes can occur and child marriages can end.
For Lincoln, it is a matter of reacting to what happened to many of his schoolmates. ‘When they were trapped into the nets of child marriage, I became so emotional; I promised myself to do something to end this practice.’
Isabelle wants to live in a society where everyone gets the same life opportunities and all the support they need to realise their dreams. ‘Hence, I decided to advocate for women’s empowerment, building on my own experience. I want to fight for a society where we can stand up and say no to child abuse when a man of 30 years sleeps with a girl of 15.’
‘Just when I imagine what it must be like to be married at an early age, I feel sad. It inspires me to advocate for of girls these abused girls’ rights,’ says Selmor. ‘It is heartbreaking for me to imagine a life where I would not be able to perform on stage or where I wouldn’t have been able to start my own business. These young girls also have dreams, but because of their situations, they are stuck. They deserve more. I hope my speaking up and being a role model for them, will contribute to ending child marriage. I call upon everyone in Zimbabwe to speak up against child marriage. These girls need our support.’
the issue of ending child marriage goes together with changing the perception of the role of women in society...
According to Tendai 'The Beast’ the issue of ending child marriage goes together with changing the perception of the role of women in society: ‘I want to use my platform to try to convince people to change their mind on child marriage and to contribute to ending this social practice in Zimbabwe and beyond. I strongly believe that child marriage continues to be perpetuated because of our perception of the role of women in our societies. As a man, I feel it is important that I raise my voice and influence men and women to understand that girls should not only be seen as future wives and mothers but as full citizens who can and should be opportunity allowed to fully develop their potential and contribute to buildingbuilding a prosperous community and nation. Therefore, I fully support UNICEF’s campaign to empower women and end child marriage.’
UNICEF’s activities to empower women and end child marriage is part its child protection work, and is funded by the Child Protection Fund III and Sweden.