Fungai Lupande Mashonaland Central Bureau
Chiefs in Mashonaland Central have been commended for playing a critical role in ending child marriages with a special court having been set up by four Shamva Chiefs Nyamaropa, Mutumba, Madziwa and Bushu to deal with cases of child marriages.
The special court empowers the Chief to end a marriage consisting of a young girl and it is victim-friendly with the victim choosing who can and cannot attend the hearing to enable her to give evidence freely.
Speaking during training of judiciary service officials, police officers and journalists by the National AIDS Council (NAC) Chief Bushu said the special court facilitates re-entry of pregnant learners into the education system.
“We also managed to come up with a compensation fund through penalties paid to the Chief’s court to assist pregnant teenagers. Apart from stiff penalties for perpetrators of child marriages we unanimously agreed that any Chief or village head found guilty of taking a young girl as a wife will step down.
“We agreed that a perpetrator cannot appeal his verdict to any of the four Chiefs. We are using the same by-law and those who appeal to any of the other three Chiefs will pay a fine for disrespecting a Chief.
“This has resulted in an increase in awareness on sexual and gender-based violence issues. We want to totally eradicate child marriages.”
Chief Bushu commended the Start Awareness Support Action (SASA) model for being an effective tool in ending violence against women. SASA projects manager Mr Maxwell Hombiro said the model was borrowed from Uganda. He said the model has been modified to suit the Zimbabwean context.
“SASA challenges harmful cultural practices which lead to vulnerability among women and motivates men to be proactive in protecting women. The programme also strengthens a multi-sectoral approach in ending sexual and gender-based violence.”
African Union Ambassador for ending early child marriages Mrs Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda commended Chiefs in Shamva district for playing a huge role in reducing child marriages cases.
She said child marriages rob the girl child of their childhood and future while placing them at risk of pregnancy-related complications.
Mrs Gumbonzvanda said the bystander apathy has led to an increase in cases of child abuse hence traditional leaders, family members and the community need to be morally courageous and put an end to child marriages.
“Young girls and being married off and accepted by families and the community are not reporting these cases to the police. The community is playing a part in the covering up of such sexual violence cases or not failing to intervene due to fear,” she said.