Poverty forces parents to marry off daughters early

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HARARE – Children living in farming areas are being married off at an early age, with approximately 50 percent being married below the age of 18.

Moira Ngaru, director of Farm Orphan Support Trust of Zimbabwe (Fost) said early marriage was a form of violence against children that was rampant in the farming community. Ngaru said poverty was usually the cause for early marriages.

“Early marriages usually occur due to poverty and lack of economic opportunities for girls in farm communities,” Ngaru said.

“In some instances they end up getting married because they are forced out of school. Health problems loom as their bodies will be too immature to give birth.”

Ngaru said economic exploitation was another common form of violence against children living in farms.

“Due to poverty, children are forced to go and work on the farms (maricho),” Ngaru said.

“Children in these circumstances don’t only face occupational hazards like handling pesticides, herbicides, they are denied educational opportunities leading to the continuation of the cycle of poverty in the farming communities.”

Sexual abuse and exploitation remained the most under reported crimes against children in farming communities.

Sexual abuse might involve both boys and girls and often happens in the family, schools or community.

“Sexual abuse cases are often not reported due to the lack of awareness-raising on sexual abuses as human rights violations and crimes because of the stigma faced by victims of sexual violence,” Ngaru said, adding Zimbabwe ratified the International Labour Organisation Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

Ngaru said advocating and raising awareness on communities on the demerits of child labour was pivotal in protecting children against this form violence.

Early marriages can be eradicated through strengthening the enforcement of legislation banning early marriages and legal age of sexual consent, Ngaru said, adding raising awareness on the rights of the child and forming child protection systems within the communities was paramount.

Fost is supporting child protection committees in their quest to safeguard the rights of children in their communities and raising awareness on child rights through involving community leadership.

Unicef has a number of initiatives that are aimed at eradicating violence against children.

Violence against children is all too often unseen, unheard and under reported, Unicef said  in July while announcing an initiative that urges ordinary citizens, lawmakers and governments to speak out more forcefully to fight violence against children.

The initiative builds on growing popular outrage that erupted following horrific attacks against children, such as the fatal shooting of 26 pupils and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, USA in December 2012 and gang rapes of girls in India and in South Africa in 2013.

“In every country, in every culture, there is violence against children,” said Anthony Lake, Unicef executive director.

“Everywhere children are harmed, our outrage and anger must be seen and heard. We must make the invisible visible.”

The initiative urges people around the world to recognize violence against children, join global, national or local movements to end it and bring together new ideas to focus collective action on this goal.

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