Joyce Jenje- Makwenda Inside Out
The Constitutional Court ruling which makes it a crime to marry someone who is under 18 is welcome. Needed now are practical ways to implement the judgment so that Zimbabweans can continue celebrating.
Non implementation of this ruling means it will just remain a law and nothing will change.
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Policing has to start from home, community and then the nation.
The home has become one of the worst prisons for children, women and men to a certain degree.
As a nation, we should look at all forms of child marriages, both direct and indirect.
Let’s also look at all bad practices that are perpetrated under the disguise of culture. Girls and women have endured bad cultural practices for a long time because of how our society is structured — the marrying off of girls under 18 being one of them.
Boys have also not been excluded from the abuse of child marriages.
Recently, a nine-year-old boy wedded a 62-year-old woman in South Africa, apparently having been instructed by ancestors to do so.
This has negative psychological effects to this boy just as it has on girls.
The question is how are we going to monitor all forms of bad practices which are being perpetrated in the name of tradition and culture?
How does a girl being married off to some prophet or babamukuru etc have the knowledge that they can bring these perpetrators to book without endangering their lives.
Example of bad cultural practices include chiramu, marrying off daughters to ghosts, and the practice whereby a father-in-law is the first to have sex with his son’s wife to see whether she is a real woman. These practices are going on in some families and communities right under our noses. Those who would like to challenge such practices might be scared or have no idea how to go about it.
The tasting of a woman by her father-in-law is abuse.
In many instances, the fathers-in-law will not end with just tasting — they want a full course meal from the daughter-in-law.
In another, incident a father whose son had gone to work in South Africa tormented his daughter in-law as tasting was not enough for him.
She agreed to the tasting as it was said to be part of the culture.
Although she tried to resist, she was overpowered in the name of “it is our culture”. She felt used.
She complained to her mother-in-law and discovered that she, too, did not support this culture and was also very bitter about this practice.
She had never gotten over it.
Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law decided to bring this practice to an end.
When the father-in-law went into the bedroom where the daughter-in-law was sleeping, the mother-in-law followed.
The two beat the man and he ran for his life without pants.
The daughter-in-law, who hailed from Plumtree ended up following her husband in South Africa. It is during my stay in South Africa that she told me this story.
We do not encourage violence but these two women saw this as the only way to end this tormenting.
Some daughters-in-law end up having a serious relationships with their fathers-in-law privately or publicly.
Some even have children with their fathers-in-law.
While the mother-and daughter-in-law might have ended this practice in their home, it is still going on in the area and in some parts of Southern Africa. I came to know that this practice exists in some parts of Southern Africa this month when I was conducting research on this story.
In 1999, I travelled to Mutoko to see for myself a young woman who had been married to a ghost.
I wrote the story and it was published by a number of publications.
I used to hear girls scolding each other saying “urimukadzi wengozi” (you are a wife of an avenging spirit) and I wondered what that meant. Having grown up in the urban set up. this is something that I did not have any idea about.
I grew up curious to know what it was all about.
A woman who came from Mutoko (who used to collect old clothes for resale in the area I live) used to rest at my house and we would talk.
She told me that this was happening in their family. I told her that I wanted to write the story to raise awareness.
She also told me of cousins who were married because of murders that had occurred in the family.
The two used to be brother and sister (cousins) and now they had to switch to husband and wife. It is said when this happened they could not take it but had no choice because the family forced them to marry. They were warned that if they refused to do so, the whole family was going to be wiped out.
How painful. The cousins had been in the union for over 30 years in 1999 and they had children and grandchildren. But what was done to them by their family is something they still could not comprehend.
Unfortunately when I went to Mutoko I did not have the chance to meet the cousins as I spent more time with the young woman, Jessika, who had also been married to ngozi.
Jessika said she was worried that she will have to sleep with different men in the village because no man was willing to have a serious relationship with her.
The man whose avenging spirit turned her life into a nightmare was called Jabulani.
He came from Mozambique and was killed by Jessika’s relative so his spirit was coming back seeking compensation.
Jabulani’s spirit wanted to have a wife and children that he did not have in his lifetime since he was murdered.
The daughter she had with a young man called Tapiwa was not going to be Tapiwa’s, but Jabulani’s child.
Tapiwa was not happy with this and there were no longer in a relationship.
The young man in this instance is also traumatised and abused with this cultural practice.
So Jessika had to find another man who would make her pregnant and have another child.
She could not handle this.
She said she felt she was becoming a prostitute who was going to sleep with the whole village.
She pleaded with me to take her away from this situation, but unfortunately I had no capacity.
This practice is still going on, researchers continue to study these issues and yet a practical solution seems to be elusive.
A solution to these practices will only come from the family, community, then the nation.
The practice of chiramu is one such practice which might be difficult to monitor as this happens in a very closed entity.
Chiramu is where the husband of a sister, usually an older sister’s, is allowed to be friends with the younger sister of his wife.
Sometimes the friendship can go too far and result in a romantic relationship or forced romantic relationship.
Most of these relationships are forced on the girl and then they become normalised by either the young sister becoming a mistress or a second wife.
This is one bad cultural practice that can be very difficult to monitor as the girl is already staying with the perpetrator and can be intimidated not to tell anyone about the forced relationship.
Girls are becoming second wives to their sister’s husbands, some get used to the abuse and they end up enjoying it.
However, some resist this kind of union but they do not know how to get out of it.
Unions like these might continue to take place if we do not put the law into action.
We need to come up with strategies which make it impossible for fathers-in-laws tasting their daughters-in-law, marrying off children to ghosts for whatever reason, the chiramu practice and the marrying off of underage girls and boys.
It should not be in the name of culture, it is simply immoral.
- Joyce Jenje-Makwenda can be contacted on [email protected]