23 Jun

Preventing and Eliminating Child, Early and Forced Marriage – A Statement to HRC

Statement to the Human Rights Council

High Level Panel on Preventing and Eliminating Child, Early and Forced Marriage


26th Session of the Human Rights Council

23rd June 2014,

Geneva, Switzerland


Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

African Union Goodwill Ambassador for Campaign to End Child Marriage

I am honoured to make this statement in my capacity as the African Union Goodwill Ambassador for the Campaign to End Child Marriage, as this is my first time to take the floor in this capacity. I congratulate the Human Rights Council for the procedural resolution on ending child, early and forced marriage adopted last year that paved the way for the study and for the convening of this panel.

This issue is personal to me in many more ways. It is the story of my mother Rozaria, who was pulled out of school at age 15 in order to marry my own father. It is the story of Miriam, Seyanbou, Mereso, and millions of other girls many of whom I have met in life and daily work with the World YWCA. This is an issue about life, families, communities, broken dreams and shattered bodies. It is about girls at risk of marriage; just as much as it is about the millions of adolescent mothers and girls in marriage. It is about the 276 Nigerian Girls from Chibok, who are yet to be rescued!

It is an issue of responsibility and accountability for all of us, and a deeper calling for us to respect the essence of human rights. Child, early and forced marriage is the nexus of household poverty, violence against women, abuse and misuse of cultures, traditions and religion; it is an issue of gender inequalities. It is exacerbated by situations of conflict and wars. It is legal, socio-cultural and economic issue. It speaks to the lack of implementation of the many existing commitments to women and young people at national, regional and global levels.

I have had the opportunity to work closely with the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights as they undertook this study, and the data and evidence of extent human rights violation perpetuated through this practice in unacceptable. It is encouraging therefore to witness the global effort currently underway to address this issue. Indeed, I congratulate the Human Rights Council for showing leadership on this matter.

The statistics are telling that child marriage is highly prevalent in Africa. There are 41 countries worldwide with child marriage rate of 30% or more, and of these 30 are in Africa. The UN reports that nearly four out of every ten young women in Africa were married or in a union before the age of 18. Every year, about 14 million adolescent and teenage girls are married, almost always forced into the arrangement by their parents. This is equivalent to the population of my own country Zimbabwe. The child, early and forced marriage is a confluence of the multiple violations of the rights of girls. It is about poverty, discrimination and exclusion; it is violence against women and girl, abuse, rape and exploitation. Forced is abduction. It is illegal, immoral and an unacceptable harmful practice.

In recognition of the seriousness and urgency of the issue, H.E. Mrs. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), is promoting a new Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa. The two-year Campaign was launched continent-wide on 29 May 2014 at the session of the 4th AU Conference of Ministers of Social Development (CAMSD4), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The broad aims of the campaign are:

(i)                 Ending child marriage by supporting policy action in the protection and promotion of human rights,

(ii)               Mobilizing continental awareness of child marriage,

(iii)             Removing barriers and bottlenecks to law enforcement,

(iv)              Determining the socio-economic impact of child marriage;

(v)                Increasing the capacity of non-state actors to undertake evidence-based policy advocacy

The specific objectives of the two year campaign are:

  1. Promote the effective implementation of the AU legal and policy instruments with the bearing on young people especially the girl child, and for promoting the fulfilment of their rights
  2. Promote and support the African Union member states to frame, launch and execute national strategies and programmes, including building social movement at community level with multi-stakeholder engagement
  3. Promote universal access to birth registration, quality education and sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) services, including meeting the unmet needs of married and unmarried adolescents for family planning, and
  4. Strengthen the evidence base needed to design and implement effective policies and programmes for reducing child marriage at scale. (AU Call to Action, 2014)

This campaign aims to implement the existing AU policies and legal instruments including the Youth Charter, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1999); the Policy Framework on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; the AU Campaign for the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal, New born and Child Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) and the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. In many ways, this campaign is also a practical way for the realisation of rights for women and girls ascribed to at the international level include the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

This is an urgent matter for which I call on the Human Rights Council to consider the following:

  • Request the Council to adopt this issue standing item on its agenda, with an Annual Substantive Resolution for the coming years, building on the precedent of this HRC on its work on Violence against women; in recognition and support of the efforts emerging from the African Member States and the African Union and civil society.
  • Ensure the implementation of the recommendation of the study through the various Human Rights Council mechanisms, including the special mandates, the treaty bodies, and the UPR and for all other opportunities available.
  • We need a firm commitment to ending child, early and forced marriage in the post 2015 agenda, accompanied by a quality monitoring and resource framework, thus ensuring support to country activities and programmes.
  • Request member states to address the underlying causes of child early and forced marriage including feminisation of household poverty, harmonising the age of marriage with legal age of majority; facilitate civil registration of births and marriages; ensure greater investment in education of girls; young women’s leadership and empowerment as well as building peaceful communities and ending conflicts.
  • Call on communities especially cultural and religious leaders and faith based organisations to speak out against the abuse and misuse of traditions and faiths; often used as justification for the perpetuation of these harmful practices. Instead, we should harness the great potential religion has, through its teaching on love to actually defend and protect girls until they are ready and can choose for themselves who to marry.
  • Challenge each one of us to find an appropriate word to describe this violation of girls and women’s rights because calling it “marriage” provides a cloak of legality and acceptability to a criminal action that goes against the society’s mores.
  • Provide and sustain the critical political, financial, technical and community resources necessary to end child, early and forced marriage. Increased allocation of resources to education, health, social service, community, youth and women’s groups is indeed crucial.

In conclusion, I acknowledge the many partners supporting the African Campaign as well as those involved at the global levels including UNFPA, UNICEF, Ford Foundation, Girls Not Brides, Plan International, World YWCA and many initiatives at various levels. The commitments of countries like Zambia, Sierra Leone, and Canada among others do inspire us in this effort.  My appreciation to Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her leadership and commitment to addressing this specific human rights issue during her term in office. I know that with our collective effort, it’s possible to end child marriage within a single generation.

19 Jun

Let’s Make it Happen: Ending Child Marriage within a Single Generation

cropped-NG3.jpgStatement to The Gender Is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) meeting Held on margins of African Union Summit; 20 June, 2014, Malabo

 By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda*: African Union Goodwill Ambassador For the Campaign to End Child “Marriage”

It’s a deep honour for me to share this moment with you, though I am unable to be there in person. I feel humbled with the recognition and appointment as the African Union Goodwill Ambassador for the continental campaign to end child “marriage”.

 This is a responsibility that I accept, with full acknowledgement of my GIMAC roots. I am a product of the African women’s movement, and GIMAC has been there in our struggles for the rights of women and girls. I express my appreciation to each one of you individually and collectively. I give my special recognition to my elder sisters and mentors and especially, Hon Bineta Diop, the AU Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security and Chairperson of Femme Afrique Solidaritae. She has always quietly, deeply firmly and consistently reached out, advised and opened many doors for us younger women to step up to the plate.

 In accepting this role and within this sacred GIMAC space, I recognise the many courageous young women and girls who have and continue to trust me with their stories, their fears, their pain, hope, resilience, dreams and effort to build a new narrative for Africa. The stories from my daily experiences at the YWCA members in 32 countries in Africa, and 120 worldwide informs me that we should combine prevention, protection, support to survivors and adequate remedies. It’s the stories in my own country, Zimbabwe. It’s my mother’s story, Rozaria, married off young when all she wanted was education.

 As Goodwill Ambassador, I will always draw my strength and my courage from the stories of my sisters old and young, in the slums and suburbs of Africa; in the rural and so called “hard to reach” communities; women with in conflict and post crisis countries; as well as those in extreme poverty and those whose cups are overflowing, those who are differently abled, living with HIV or scars of abuse, such as rape, force marriage and other forms of violations. I draw my strength from the survivors, the champions, the human rights defenders, the frontline workers and the daring leaders like all of you in this house.

 It is with pain that I share my outrage that the abducted 276 Nigerian girls from Chibok yet to be rescued. The government of Nigeria, Africa leadership and the rest of the world has failed in their basic duty ~  protection of our children. These Nigerian girls are likely being treated as “wives”, sexually abused and traumatised. It’s called sexual slavery. I reject the words “marriage” or “bride” in relation to children, because using such words sanitises criminal acts and evil practices. It gives legitimacy and validity to that which is abhorrent, to a violation to bodily integrity and basic human rights of girls.

 Child marriage continues to affect millions of girls every year in Africa with the resultant outcome of high rates in maternal and child mortality; obstetric fistula, premature births, sexually transmitted diseases (including cervical cancer), and HIV and domestic violence. Girls continue to be married as children in Africa, with more than five and a half million women who are today in their early 20s married before they reached their 15th birthday. If nothing is done in the next decade, 14.2 million girls under 18 years will be married every year, which translates into 39,000 girls married each day. If this trend continues, the number of girls under 15 giving birth is expected to rise from 2 million to 3 million by 2030, in Africa. The costs of inaction, in terms of rights unrealized, foreshortened personal potential and lost development opportunities, far outweigh the costs of interventions. (AU Statement, 2014).

 I invite you today to join and support the African Union in the bold step that it has taken by spearheading and leading such a campaign. I commend the Chair of the African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dhlamini Zuma for showing leadership on this issue. The future we want is defined by the investment, respect and dignity we prioritise for girls and young women. This continental campaign will have an intense focus in ten countries within the next two years. As AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Dr Kaloko stressed,  two years is long enough time for us to make huge strides in addressing this issue. We need the political will and everyone’s involvement.

 I recognise that we have baskets and baskets of resolutions and commitments to women and children’s rights. I also recognise that Africa is very rich, although poverty has a female face and often results in child “marriage”. Africa has rich cultures and traditions that value the dignity of women, and yet the same cultures are abused and misused to justify “child marriage”.

 I recommend the following actions as some of the doable towards bringing this practice to an end:

1.       I request GIMAC to have this issue as a Standing Agenda item at all AU Summits, for us to generate common positions and lobby member states for concrete actions. As the AU Goodwill Ambassador for Ending Child Marriage, I will be inviting Mme Maiga, the AU Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights and Mme Bineta Diop as AU Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security for us to join our efforts in this action.

2.       Hosting a Special Girls/ Young Women’s Forum and Inter-generational Dialogue as part of the Beijing plus 20 Review process, focusing specifically on ending Child, Early and Forced marriage. This is a request I make to the governments and to the United Nations ie UNFPA, UNICEF, UNECA and especially to UN Women, through its Special Representative to the AU, Ms Letty Chiwara. After all, it was Africa which lobbied for inclusion of the Girl Child as a priority in the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995.

3.       Adopt this campaign to end child marriage within your own organisation; whether your work focuses on health, education, agriculture, technology, economic empowerment, political participation of women, training, banking, media  ~ whatever it is, there is always a link to child “marriage”.

4.       Be part of the efforts in your own country, push for legislation reform on alignment of age of marriage with legal majority status; advocate for more resources to girls and young women; speak out and change the negative traditions and customs that perpetuate the practice.

5.       Commit to taking personal action to ending child, early and forced marriage in your own family, community and country. Talk about it with your family and friends, report a case to someone who can take action and provide an ear to someone telling their story as a survivor.

6.       Stand up and be counted on this cause through social media, tweet about it, and blog about it. The hashtag is #endchildmarriageNow and do not forget the twitter handle @OurGirlsAU and, yes make sure you tag me on @nyaradzayigumbo or @worldywca.

 I really believe that we can end child marriage within a single generation. We just have to know that the stories of Miriam, Seyanbou, Assatou, Rozaria, Dambudzo and many other girls, is about life. They are not a statistic. They are citizens with rights and a future. You and me can reshape the narrative of Africa, and within our lifetime talk about child marriage as a practice “that used to exist”.

 I take this opportunity to also thank many partners, community, women, youth, faith networks and organisations; governments; academic institutions, the media, multilateral organisations and persons who are rolling up their sleeves, and taking action with us. I am on my feet, and I invite you to walk with me and the millions of African girls, towards a single destination, a world where girls will be girls, not brides and not wives.

 * Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda currently serves as the General Secretary of the World YWCA
19 Jun

The Day I will Never Forget – Snippets of My Life (5)

ZAA2This is one of the days that I will never forget. The Zimbabwe Achievers Awards giving ceremony. I was invited as a keynote speaker. The day before that famous Saturday, I had lost my voice and also misplaced my passport with a visa in it. I was going to be recieving the 2014 Chair’s Honorary Award, and the honourable chair Conrad Mwanza was checking up on me almost every hour. Then somehow everything worked out and I managed to go to London for the event.

When I arrived at the venue, it felt like I had met many of the people there before. But actually, I realised that I had met many of my brothers and sisters on social media. We have been supporting each other, analysing issues for like years. I was happy that day. It was good to have deep dive into and a dance to Zim music. I missed though an all out Zim cusine, ie sadza nemuboora! It was good to be in the midst of extraordinary talent, innovators, entrepreneurs, visionaries…..

And then Zim’s Ambassador to London was asked to make a statement and he sang “My beautitful Zimbabwe”, and the house joined in song, and jokes were flying around about ZimaAsset and all. Somehow, I always bring my Magaya village stories pese pese, and before long were were chatting about kuChitowa, Mukarakate and other places dzekwaWiri.

We walked hand in hand in the rain with my daughter, as we went back to our place of abode for the night. I am still basking in that event and that special moment, although it is already two moons and counting. I am still smiling

18 Jun

So Where Are From?



I have this strange long name, some people say. Usually people ask me “so where are you from?”

….I usually and genuinely answer “my umbilical cord is buried in my mother’s kitchen, Magaya Village, in Murewa, Zimbabwe and I am a global citizen”.

We usually laugh about this and then go into conversations about identity, sovereignty; culture; places I have lived and visited, globalisation, migration and yes, we also talk about my mother, her kitchen and the burying of rukuvhute! We also talk about the meaning of my name. When it comes to my surname, I usually answer “ughhh, its all patriarchy! Its my husband’s great great grand father’s name”. I then do not go into details about its meaning or where “he” was born!

After all that, we come back to it, yes I am Zimbabwean, and I claim my rights to the world and equally give my best to this world. Feeling good today, about me!

15 Jun

Acceptance Speech for the ZIWA Humanitarian Award, 2014

ZIWAI am honored to accept the 2014 Humanitarian Award conferred by the Zimbabwe International Women’s Award (ZIWA). I have requested my daughter, Farirai Gumbonzvanda, who is Rozaria Memorial Trust (RMT)  Representative in the UK to receive this award on my behalf. I express my appreciation to to all the nominees, the awardees, the selection panel and to ZIWA, founders, the Board and supporters. The theme of the ZIWA awards “Celebrating and Honouring Successful Zimbabwe Women”,  are just so affirming to all of us and what we all are and continue to offer to all our communities and globally.

My commitment to humanitarian work is driven by my life experiences growing up as a rural girl in Magaya Village, in Murewa, the journey travelled together with my brothers, sisters and friends. It is informed by my daily work as the General Secretary of the Word YWCA with its presence in 120 countries.

I am inspired by my late mother, Rozaria Marumisa Dizha, the person who taught me to love, care and share. Upon her death and in her honour I established Rozaria Memorial Trust, a community organisation reaching over 10,000 people in Murewa.  We provide assistance to children living with HIV so that they can access education and treatment.

I therefore dedicate this award to all the young women and girls in Zimbabwe. Through this award, I will cultivate the spirit of giving and sharing among the girls and young women in my professional and social life . Girls and young women are not a statistic. They are people with voice, energy and creativity. They are the humanitarian actors of today and tomorrow.

I was recently appointed the African Union Ambassador for the Campaign to End Child Marriage. Through  this ZIWA Humanitarian Award, I invite you all to join me and all other people of goodwill in fighting this evil practice. I know that though our collective effort, we can end child, early and forced marriage in a single generation.

I do thank my husband Charles and our children Munashe and Farirai for the extraordinary support, the love and the encouragement they give each and every day.  This day is for us all.

Again,  thank you all and God Bless you.

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda,

June 14, 2014

About ZIWA

Zimbabwe International Women Awards were founded in 2013 to celebrate and recognise the unsung heroines in the Zimbabwean community. Women who have made a contribution to our community from entrepreneurship, business, education, social, charity, humanitarian work, entertainment and arts.  Zimbabwe as a people have been well known for their strong work ethics and dedication. Zimbabwean women have been recognised for their work in the International community from successful business women, artists to humanitarians. ZIWA seeks to bring these role models together, not only to celebrate and recognise their success, but to inspire the younger generation of Zimbabwean women.


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