I am forty something today and somehow find it hard to celebrate with the usual way of cake, and a little bash with family. All that continues to run in my mind are the faces, pain, dreams and aspirations of the “married” girls. I dedicate this day to my daughters.
We are talking of 15 million girls who are forced into marriage each year, either pushed into this institutions by poverty, or literally forced by an adult in their lives. We are essentially talking about 15 million abused girls, often coerced into sex, sexual slavery, child labour and are abducted.
It the girls who are widowed, or divorced or are in polygamous marriages. Some unfortunately died due to pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, others have gone through surgery for fistula or gave birth by ceasarian section. Some have more than one kid, pregnant and confused. Meeting a 24 year old who is a grandmother is heart-breaking.
Most this these girls simply want to go back to school. They want a certificate and livelihood. Many can not afford such education. Their parents no longer prioritise and after all why should they pay school fees when they are already married off. The “husband” is now having to provide the upkeep for the new wife, and the kids. Therefore paying for fees for these girls is least of his priority. Some have a fear, if the young wife goes to school and meets some young men, will she remain faithful, what if she gets economically empowerment, will she stay in the marriage. Man of these married girls are emotionally bruised, and are trying to find their feet. Often times, they are not in any youth group or women’s clubs or association. They are lonely and alone.
On my birthday today, I want to thank all individuals who have stood up to be counted and offered scholarships to girls, though in a random way and when moved by the single story. I am searching for some strategic and sustainable interventions that can give a chance to these girls. Education policies to allow re-entry? vocational skills training opportunities? scholarship fund. I am searching.
I know we must double up efforts to prevent child and forced marriage and address the underlying causes of patriarchy, inequality and poverty.
Today is my birthday, and I dedicate it to searching for solutions for these girls.
(c) Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, 2015