Changing hats from victims to victors

Ruth Butaumocho Gender Editor

“We approached the courts with the conviction that child marriages had to be banned following the experience that we went through as young brides and young mothers.”

Loveness Mudzuru (20) and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi (19) were supposed to be victims caught up in a vicious web of an imperfect society with lopsided laws and norms.

However, the two young women have changed Zimbabwe with their story: they are the winning applicants of the landmark Constitutional Court ruling last week that outlawed marriage for people under the age of 18.

Theirs is a beautiful story of victims who turned victors and have just given women a voice, and the world a new narrative while the architecture of marriage and sexual relations is going to change forever in Zimbabwe.

Their story can best be described as a “rags to riches story” after the Constitutional Court last week outlawed child marriages.

Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba ruled that the supreme law of the country sets 18 years as the age of majority, hence no child should marry before that age.

He made the ruling in a matter in which Loveness and Ruvimbo were challenging Section 22 of the Marriages Act (Chapter 5:11), which allows child marriages. The court struck down the section.

The Herald caught up with the duo and their stories speak to the injustice society upheld for long but which is now to change forever.

Ruvimbo was just 15 when she eloped to a boy within her neighbourhood in Hwedza after her father chased her away for coming home late.

Barely in her teens, Ruvimbo found herself pregnant and with no moral support from her in-laws, she bore the brunt of an abusive husband while trying to fulfill her societal duties as a daughter-in law.

For someone who had barely scratched through secondary school, Ruvimbo’s only hope for survival in the future was to make her marriage work despite the odds.

“I was very young, but I had to perform all the duties expected of a married woman, including attending social gatherings where I was ridiculed for rushing into marriage when I should have been in school.

“My husband did not make life easier for me.

“He would beat me up for anything that would have gone wrong in the home.

“The whole village would turn a deaf ear to my pleas for help,” she recalled.

Two years into her marriage — and a child to contend with — her mother took her back to the family home on realising Ruvimbo’s predicament.

Ruvimbo’s case is no different from Loveness, then 16, who discovered that she was pregnant while preparing to sit for her O-Level examinations.

Fuming with rage, her father chased her away, forcing her to elope to her boyfriend during the examination period.

Luckily for Loveness, her equally young husband was not abusive, and with his assistance, she attained seven subjects when her O-Level results came out.

But the bane of early child marriage continued to haunt her. By the time she was 19, she had two children and a huge family to support. It was while Loveness and Rumbi were taking part in child marriage campaigns that the two decided to seek justice, not only for themselves but for thousands of girls in Zimbabwe who are married off every year, albeit in different circumstances.

“We had suffered enough and we did not want this to happen to anyone,” said Ruvimbo.

“With the assistance of ROOTS, a non-governmental organisation campaigning against child marriages, we approached the courts with the conviction that child marriages had to be banned, following the experience that we went through as young brides and young mothers.”

Reliving the experience from January 14 2015, when the court case was launched, the two said waiting for the judgment was the most traumatic experience of the whole case.

“Throughout the court case, we remained resolute and were determined to seek justice in its totality. It was only when we were waiting for the judgment that our hopes began to falter.

“We were no longer sure if the courts would come up with a decree banning child marriages,” recalled Ruvimbo, the younger of the two.

Now that the court has banned child marriages, a ruling that is likely to see an end to child marriages in Zimbabwe, Loveness and Ruvimbo believe the worst is over and have since resolved to go back to school and fulfill their long cherished dreams of becoming lawyer and nurse respectively.

Director of ROOTS, who helped the duo to launch the court case with the support from Veritas, Ms Beatrice Savadye hailed the ground breaking ruling, describing it as a milestone in the campaign to end child marriages.

“We indeed celebrate the watershed ruling by the Constitutional Court and let me hasten to say that the work begins now.

“We will need to focus on the girls, empower them and ensure that they acquire life skills that should help them in the future,” she said.

Zimbabwe is among 20 countries in Africa with a high child marriage prevalence rate with 30 percent of girls being married before their time.

Child marriage is a challenge not only in Zimbabwe but also globally.

Experts estimate that by the end of the year, about 13 million children, most of them girls will be married before they turn 18.

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