MUTARE: Cases of girls being married under the age of 15 have surged from 4.9% to 5.4% in 2019, statistics released by Plan International, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) with operations in Zimbabwe, reveal.
This came out during a virtual meeting which was organised by Plan International in conjunction with a Mutare-based NGO, Simukai to discuss issues of early child marriages in the country.
Plan International and its implementing partners such as Simukai are running a project called +18 Ending Child Marriage and Teen Pregnancy in Eastern and Southern Africa.
18+ is a project meant to end child marriages and for adolescent girls to have the opportunity and confidence to release their potential, fulfill their aspirations, and enjoy their rights.
The project also seeks to identify and address the root cause or drivers of early child marriages and teen pregnancies.
According to Precious Baggage, an influencing expert for 18+ project, there has been also an increase in marriages of girls below the age of 18 from 32.8% in 2014 to 33.7% in 2019.
"There has also been an increase in cases of an early bearing by girls before reaching the age of 18 from 22.4% in 2014 to 24.1% in 2019. One in ten adolescent girls and 4% boys of age 15-19 years felt discriminated on grounds of marriage," she said.
Babbage said key drivers of early child marriage include poverty, limited access to education, religion, and peer pressure.
"Traditional practices that promote child marriage include lobola, initiation rites, and ceremonies," she said.
Against this background, Babbage said, they have roped in the media in the fight against early child marriages to ensure the public is sensitised about the consequences of early marriages.
"Media is a key stakeholder in ensuring that the public is well sensitised about the consequences of child marriages. Media development is a key communication for development approach," she said.
Simukai project coordinator for +18 projects, Sarah Zhou said they were implementing the project in 10 wards in Mutasa and Mutare districts of Manicaland province.
She said the lack of information on sexual reproductive health rights was leading to teen pregnancies.
"The aim of the programme is to empower young people and traditional figures of authority to pursue the implementation of the law and where appropriate, to report cases of child marriages.
"In addition, the project engages child protection structures at the community level, health service providers for an improved response to cases of child marriages," said Zhou.