On the 16th of June 1976 more than ten thousand black South African students marched in the streets of Soweto protesting against poor education, injustice and inequality in the apartheid regime. The police officials incredibly retorted by shooting these fearless unarmed young people. In 1991, the date, 16 June was designated the International Day of the African Child by the African Union and is celebrated annually in commemoration of these heroic young people in the bid to promote children’s rights across the continent.
by Takudzwanashe Mundenga
During the 23rd Ordinary Session of the African Union in April 2014, the Committee accepted and adopted the theme for the Day of the African Child 2015: “25 Years after Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating Our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa”. The theme is parallel to the AU Summit main theme that is, “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda.”
Children are the future generation and most of our efforts today are committed to leave a valuable legacy for our offspring. The theme was prompted by the facts and figures reflected by our society today. Young girls are taken for brides as statistics reveal that in Sub Saharan Africa, 40 percent of girls are married by the age of 18 which automatically transform to two in every five girls.
There are 41 countries globally with a child marriage prevalence rate of 30 percent or further. Of these 41 countries, 30 are from Africa. In 2011, a study by the Research and Advocacy Unit entitled “Married Too Soon – Child Marriage in Zimbabwe” reported that 21 percent of children, generally girls, are married before the age of eighteen.
Child marriage is a crime against humanity, was the message passed by the Malawian President Peter Mutharika and the African Union Commission Director of Social Affairs, Olawale Maiyegun at a Civil Society Consultative Dialogue on Ending Child, Early and Forced Marriage in Africa at the 24th African Union Summit for 2015. The African Union Goodwill Ambassador for Ending Child Marriage, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda once said, “Child marriage is not marriage, but a crime.”
Francoise Moudouthe from a civil society organisation called, Girls Not Brides present at the Summit, stated that if we fold our hands, the number of child marriages would double by 2050. “Africa will become the region with the highest number of child brides in the world and so concrete efforts are needed if the scourge is to be ended.”
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but we borrow it from our children, therefore the young people must be a priority in decision and policy-making, simply because they are the future-bearers. Teenage pregnancies and child marriages are depriving our kids the right to education thereby limiting their career prospects. In addition it exposes them to the risk of HIV infection and most viciously, perpetuates gender inequality.
These matters are abridged and addressed by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) number 2 and number 6 that advocates for universal primary education and the fight against HIV/AIDS respectively. It is for us as the country of Zimbabwe to watch and weigh where we are in terms in terms of child-friendly policies.
Is Harare as the Southern African Development Community and the African Union chair heartily devoted to ending child marriages? Of course, actions speak louder than mere words and the wealth of words is not eloquence. The freshly introduced Grade Seven examination fee contravenes our commitment as a nation to promote primary education for all children, which insinuates and licenses youngsters to early marriage. The recent setting of the sexual consent age at twelve can even propagate more child marriages due to uncontrollable early indulgences.
It is early this year when two girls made a ground-breaking application which they challenged the Constitutional Court to ensure the protection of children’s rights. They challenged the Customary Marriages Act which allows 16 year old girls to get married. This additionally accentuates that the recent amendment further disadvantages the already disadvantaged. This is the same time when a local NGO by the name Real Opportunities for Transformation Support (ROOTS) launched a six-month national campaign under the theme: “Not Ripe for Marriage”.
It is our collective responsibility as parents, as society and as government to shape and reshape the predictive future of our kids in preparation of the adults that we want them to be. There is an African proverb that goes, “It takes a village to bring up a child” explicating that it does not take one individual to socialize a child to be an adult without regrets in future but rather it is a combined effort of all corners of the society.
From the ongoing deduction, it is vividly pathetic that 25 years after the adoption of the African Charter on Children’s Rights, we are destroying the monumental developments that we prepared for nearly two-and-a-half decades. The laws that we are proposing and promulgating today do not only have a bearing to the present generation, but either enslaves or frees the generations to come.
Takudzwanashe Mundenga is a young opinion writer based in Zimbabwe. He is an undergraduate at Midlands State University, reading for a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies. For feedback and comments please feel free to write him on [email protected]