Makanaka Wakatama Correspondent
The plight of the girl child is one issue that has always invoked a deep passion within me. Not the least because I was once a victim of abuse, violence and early marriage, or that l have a daughter, but also because I am acutely aware that the future progress and development of Zimbabwe is largely dependent on how we empower and treat our girls today.
I rose to stardom at the age of 9. I presented a small television programme for kids and later became the main anchor for the first Zimbabwean live television show for kids called Star Kids, which made me very famous.
In 2006, I made newspaper headlines after I was impregnated by a businessman and entered into an early marriage at 15 and gave birth to two children by the age of 17.
The story became subject of intense debate as I was a minor. With little knowledge of my rights as a girl, there were many nights of forced sex and violence. I was young and naïve.
After time spent in meditation and observing what was happening to me and my children, I picked up the pieces of my life and began to move on as a mother of two.
Now a 24-year-old young woman, I have goals to succeed in life and am filled with much zeal to help those who are in situations like mine.
The struggle of my life created empathy, I could relate to the pain of being abused and abandoned with shattered dreams. As a survivor of early child marriage, I have turned my wounds into wisdom, taken a pledge to work with organisations that are fighting to empower and protect young women.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) “Marrying too Early” report, 42 percent of girls in Africa were married before the age of 18. In Zimbabwe the recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), 1 in 3 girls are married or in union before the age of 18 and 5 percent are married before the age of 15. Population census of Zimbabwe has recorded and stated that there are more women than men, yet our patriarchal society still infringes on the rights of women and the girl child. This is confirmed by the existence of early child marriages which are believed to be perpetrated by men in our society. The socio-economic environment in Zimbabwe is not favourable for the majority of women and the girl child, which leads them to make desperate choices in order to survive, especially when they have children.
Hence there is need for further emancipation of women and girls to increase their value in society. A survey I recently carried out proved that cases of early child marriages are rampant. A girl child can be exchanged as a bride for labour, debts and as a way of appeasing avenging spirits.
Many Zimbabwean organisations such as Musasa Project have been working towards identifying and addressing problems encountered by women and girls.
In a bid to empower girls in child marriages, and in particular those who have left their marriages, I started the Makanaka Trust. One of the main objectives of this Trust is to assist the girl child to return to formal education, acquire vocational skills, and where required, entrepreneurial training.
By equipping these young women with the skills and resources to improve their lives, and those of their children, we hope to ultimately change the story of their lives from being a victim to becoming a survivor.
Last Saturday, Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of the Girl Child under the theme “Empowering adolescent girls — Ending the cycle of violence” which highlights the importance of preventing and eliminating the various forms of violence adolescent girls experience, and the importance of investing and empowering them. I commend the Government of Zimbabwe for the tremendous strides it has made in protecting and empowering the girl child. However, there is need for society and the Government to work hand in hand to totally eradicate the problem of child marriage.
By leaving my abusive marriage and turning my life around with the help and support of my family and community, I have been able to become a true survivor.
- Makanaka Wakatama is the Founder and Executive Director of Makanaka Trust. For comments and contributions e-mail: [email protected]