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Birth certificates to blame for child marriages, says MP

Uzumba Constituency legislator Simbaneuta Mudarikwa says challenges that people are encountering in accessing birth certificates in the country are to blame for the many cases of child marriages.

Zimbabwe, like many other countries in Southern Africa, is said to have high cases of child marriages due to a variety of reasons that range from poverty, religion, cultural practices among many others.

These under-age marriages are also said to be a global problem with Girls Not Bridges estimating that about 12 million girls marry before the age of 18 across the globe.

READ: CHILD MARRIAGES IN ZIMBABWE

Speaking in the National Assembly recently during the Second Reading of the Marriages Bill, Honourable Mudarikwa said there are a lot of things that need to be amended in the Bill adding that one of the things include access to birth certificates.

“What I really want to work with is the marriage age of young girls. Child marriage is a problem in Zimbabwe because birth certificates are now being given at offices which are a distance. If a person is said to have married an underage without a birth certificate its because the birth certificate is the start of everything.

“A lot of children do not have birth certificates. They are the ones who are getting married early so we should say that in those hospitals or schools, birth certificates should be issued within 24 hours so that it is easy for our parents,” he said.

Access to a birth certificate is still a challenge in Zimbabwe due to alleged lack of resources at the Registrar General’s offices.

On a daily basis, many parents queue at the office trying to retrieve their lost birth certificates while others will be trying to register their newly born babies and in most cases, these people are being forced to make many trips to the offices and the situation is even difficult for those in the rural areas who are having to travel long distances.

Below is the full text of Honourable Mudarikwa’s debate on the Marriages Bill:

This issue of child marriages – as a father of girls who are educated is not a good thing. Firstly, here it says that a child who is married being an underage child cannot look after a child, so this is not allowed and it is not good for a child to look after another child. This adds to the challenges that we have, but the problem of people getting married early is that you do not see a man who is married under 18, it only happens to girls because of poverty. We should tackle this issue of poverty. After that, we should tackle the issue of education so that our people are well educated. We are not going to school so as to speak English but our people should learn to do skilful jobs so that they are able to look after themselves and will not be lured by sweets.

The other challenge that we have is that in our villages, families have broken down. The leaders are no longer there. Fathers and mothers are no longer there. There are no father and mother heads in the families because whatever happens in these homes they will not be any peace. Also, these churches should teach people on how important families are, not how donations are important. We should also teach people that when it comes to falling in love, God is not involved as it only involves two people and God is not involved at all. What is happening in some religions is that some men are saying, ‘God says’, and when someone is as young as 15 to 16 years and someone says, ‘God says that you should fall in love with so and so’, and because of your love for God, you will end up falling for that person because the girl believes that is her entrance into heaven.

The other issue pertains to relatives especially the aunts – if the aunt is married and fails to conceive. She will take a young girl in order to support her family. So, you should not look for someone because marriage is not a cooperative. A lot of things happen when it comes to love affairs but it is our attitudes that is fuelling all this. In Africa, we are propagating child marriages.

There is an issue of challenges that are being faced by women in a polygamous marriage that they should be allowed to attend school – it is very important. Education is very important and should be encouraged for women to continue to be educated because they will be enlightened and have peace of mind.

Many a time when we encounter these challenges, you will find that children are staying with grandmothers whilst their mothers are in the towns. The grandmothers will not be having much control on the children but we want mothers to be together with their children because you love them.

Some people said that those who are in polygamous relationships want them but we cannot have laws that limit polygamous marriages. The issue of having several wives sometimes helps because when you look at the population, we have more women as compared to men. So, when you refer to the Bible – it states that ‘Go and multiply’.

As politicians, this is where we get our votes from. The children who are being born today will be voters come 2040 but we are saying that we should be pro-poor in our policies in this House. We need to verify how much is being channelled to the rural areas to help the girl child in the national budget?

How much is going to assist mothers who are looking after their families because so many stages are involved in looking after children? When a mother is empowered then she has control over her children.

The other issue that we want to address is curbing child marriages. When you meet a girl, many a time as African men, we do not ask for the girl’s age but only ask for the totem – age does not come into play in a relationship. So there should be a system in place that we encourage people to steer clear from young girls. The system should also include church choirs that children under the age of 18 years old should not sing in the choirs.

People should be made aware that under 18-year-olds are still children and should not be approached in terms of love.

Many children are dying at childbirth. Madam Speaker as Parliament, we should see what we can do. The responsible committee should come up with ways on how to stop child marriages. Our people, with the GMO type of foods that are locally available nowadays, if you are a big framed person then you will sire big children and short people will sire short people.

Children who come across these challenges are sired by people like Honourable (Enock) Porusingazi (Chipinge South) and myself because we produce big babies. When they are in Form Four, they will be looking like grown-ups.

So, people should be taught through the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, our political parties and also marriage officers. In our churches that we have nowadays, some of them are promoting homosexuality that gays and lesbians should now be marriage officers. This is bad because we are encroaching on other cultures – hiding behind religion. If we allow that, we will find our population depleting. So the influence of other cultures in our laws should be looked at and our law-making process should also be looked at because we have voluntary organisations that have a hand in that because of their own interests.

In our culture, a woman is married into a family and as black people; we remain as black people with our own cultural ways of living that are being spoiled by our current ways of living.

Finally, I want to thank people who are in marriages, those who are not in marriages and those who participated in marriage and are contributing to this debate.

It shows that as Parliament we are doing what the people want because we have seen people who have not contributed now contributing, which means that what is taking place is what we should encourage that people should live together amicably and peacefully in their homes. I want to thank you Madam Speaker for giving me this opportunity to add my voice. So on this issue, you should ask those who have the experience. Thank you.

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is the news editor for OpenParlyZW an online platform that covers Parliament of Zimbabwe activities using social media (Twitter and Facebook). He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum and a board member of Digital Communication Network.

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