Delphine Serumaga Our Children, Our Future
Zimbabwe is among countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages in Africa. Approximately one in three girls are married off before the age of 18.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, forced and early marriage denies children their right to protection from harmful practices, abuse and exploitation, and takes away their right to develop to their fullest.
As one of the responses to the problem of child marriages, UN Women in Zimbabwe and the Chiefs’ Council of Zimbabwe have formed a partnership to accelerate the end of child marriage in the country.
The partnership, agreed to in January 2019, resulted in the participation of three members of the Chiefs’ Council, led by their president, Chief Fortune Charumbira, in high level meetings on “Transforming Traditions, Norms, Customs and Cultures to End Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation in Africa: Joining Hands with Traditional and Cultural Leaders” held on February 10-11, 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Hopefully, the work by UN Women and the Chiefs’ Council in Zimbabwe will strengthen capacity of chiefs to influence legislative reform on child marriage and to tackle the issue in the communities within their jurisdiction.
The Addis Ababa meeting convened by UN Women was held in collaboration with the Government of the Republic of Zambia and the African Union Commission. The meeting brought together traditional and cultural leaders from over 15 African countries.
Others from Zimbabwe who attended are Chief Siansali from Binga, who is also the Provincial Chairperson of the Chiefs Provincial Assembly in Matabeleland North and Commissioner Chief Chikwizo from the Zimbabwe Gender Commission.
The meeting provided a platform for the renewal of commitments to end child marriage and female-genital mutilation in Africa.
On the side event of the AU Heads of State Summit, the meeting also sought to secure and renew commitments of Heads of State and Government and Traditional and Cultural Leaders to incorporate transformational approaches that effectively address socio-cultural barriers to end child marriage and female-genital mutilation in Africa by 2030.
The Council of Traditional Leaders of Africa (COTLA) was launched at the event in Addis Ababa. COTLA is a Pan-African platform of male and female traditional and cultural leaders, primarily set up to amplify and organise their voices and actions across Africa to transform culture and eliminate negative cultural practices that harm women and girls.
In their final communiqué, traditional leaders acknowledged the importance of the platform in enabling them to bring together their collective voices, influence, authority and action to redefining the leadership role of traditional leaders in the urgent efforts to fight child marriage and female-genital mutilation, which practices have no place in our societies.
Speaking in one of the dialogue sessions, Chief Charumbira expressed concern over criminals who hide behind cultural practices and perform gross human rights violations under the guise of culture.
He added that perpetrators must be brought to book and prosecuted and pledged the support of the Chiefs from Zimbabwe to the regional initiative to end child marriage and female-genital mutilation.
Going forward, the partnership in Zimbabwe will strengthen coordinated efforts to end child marriages at local, national and regional level.
Delphine Serumaga, UN Women Representative in Zimbabwe.