II Men, women and HIV

6 Caught between a rock and a hard place

Caught between a rock and a hard place: girl-child marriage as a safety net in Mabvuku, Harare

Shamiso C. Madzivire and Wiseman Masunda

Introduction

This chapter examines child marriage as a safety net for orphans and vulnerable children growing up in a harsh social and economic environment in Zimbabwe. In scholarly work, and amongst non-govemmental organisations, child marriage is viewed typically as an “evil” which needs to be uprooted. As such, girls under the age of 18 who find themselves in marriages, and those who arc considered ‘at risk’ of child marriage, need to be “saved”. We argue that this view of child marriage is not necessarily and always shared by the girl-child, as some girls enact agency (although constrained) in entering into marriage as a way of fulfilling their desires for love and acceptance. Marriage to them is a survival tactic, a safety net expected to contain and ensure marital and familial bliss in the face of the depraved environments they face daily. While these expectations may be realised for some child-brides, for others, marriage results in emotional or physical pain and negative health consequences. In this chapter, we by no means argue for child marriage. Rather, we seek to offer a more balanced understanding of child marriage in which the everyday lives, including hopes and drcams, of orphans and vulnerable children arc given due consideration.

Context

In international human rights law, marriage before the age of 18 is a violation of human rights. Globally, the 2008 to 2018 period saw a 15 per cent decrease in the rate of child marriage due to accelerated progress towards ending child marriage. However, each year during this period, around 12 million girls were married before the age of 18, which translates to a rate of approximately one in five girls (compared to the previous decade’s one in four) (Wylie 2018; UNICEF 2019). Levels of child marriage arc highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly four in ten young women are married before age 18 (UNICEF 2019). Research shows that if the decrease in child marriage docs not accelerate within Sub-Saharan Africa, there is the likelihood that, by 2050, the number of child-brides in this region would have doubled (UNICEF 2014). This would certainly undercut the ambitious target of eliminating child marriage by 2030 as set out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Wylie 2018; UNICEF 2019).

Like many other previously colonised African countries, Zimbabwe has a dual legal system with both customary and general law being recognised by the constitution. The result of this sometimes awkward co-existence is a pluralistic marriage system with various forms of marriage. Couples in Zimbabwe can choose between marital arrangements in the form of cohabitation, an unregistered customary law marriage, a registered customary marriage or a registered civil marriage; however, only those which arc formally registered arc recognised as valid by the law (RAU 2013). To each of these marriages is attached different rights and duties, with customary law governing customary marriages through the 1951 Customary Marriages Act [Chapter 5:07] and general law governing civil marriages through the 1964 Marriage Act [Chapter 5:11]. Though the Constitution defines anyone below the age of 18 as a child, the Customary Marriages Act does not include any age limits with regards to marriage, creating a loophole through which child marriage can be practised without any repercussions. In fact, customary marriages arc the form in which child marriages generally exist in Zimbabwe. As well, the Marriage Act [Chapter 5:11], which is also often referred to as Chapter 37, has a similar loophole as it sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 for boys and only 16 for girls. Furthermore, it also has provisions allowing for marriages of those younger than this in certain situations.

On 20 January 2016, a Constitutional Court ruling in the case of Mudzuru & Another v Minister of Justice & Others in Zimbabwe declared all forms of child marriage illegal. This involved a ruling against Section 22(1) of the Marriage Act [Chapter 5:11] and “any other law, practice or custom authorising a person under 18 to marry”, including via the Customary Marriages Act [Chapter 5:07] - making them unconstitutional and invalid (Veritas Zimbabwe 2016). Although this ruling prohibited all persons below the age of 18 from legally marrying or entering into a union, “including a customary or religious union”, in reality the end of child marriage will not depend on laws only but on addressing some of the “drivers” on the ground that could make it difficult for the practice to be halted (Veritas Zimbabwe 2016). The drivers of child marriage in Zimbabwe arc generally intertwined with patriarchal attitudes (and practices) that subordinate women and girls, with these attitudes often handed down within families through the socialisation process (Kambarami 2016). According to a Media Zfrve/'publishcd by the Panos Institute (2015), there are five key drivers of child marriage in Zimbabwe. These are: poverty, limited access to education, peer pressure, religious beliefs and traditional and cultural practices. Orphanhood and family honour arc also mentioned in the 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) as being drivers of child marriage (ZIMSTAT 2015).

In Zimbabwe, the term “kupinda mumba”, which literally translates as “entering the home”, is used to refer to the beginning of a marital union. As stated earlier, this can be in the form of customary marriage, civil marriage or cohabitation. For many who enter into unregistered customary marriages (as with the participants in this study), this union-forming process can begin informally through various

Caught between a rock and a hard place 79 ways: elopement where the potential husband encourages his lover to “run away” to him as a way of initially bypassing the payment of bride-price; Hight where the woman (who in some cases is pregnant) “runs away” to the potential suitor without having discussed it with him in a bid to force the marriage negotiation process; or as cohabitation where the two live together without necessarily stating any future intentions of formalising the arrangement. These three routes often have different implications as far as the stability of the marriages is concerned.

Research methods

This chapter is based on evidence collected within a broader study about understanding child marriage as a part of contemporary marriage practices in Zimbabwe. The research took place in the high-density residential area of Mabvuku in Harare. Despite being urban and considered the most developed province in the country, Harare Metropolitan Province faces several challenges including overpopulation, insufficient residential accommodation delivery, deficient water provision and other infrastructure and various social vices, such as sex work and child marriages (Parliament of Zimbabwe 2011). These challenges arc often located in areas inhabited by a predominantly black population of low-income earners such as Mabvuku.

Purposive and snowball sampling techniques were used to identify 25 former child-brides who were then interviewed. Initially, the researcher (one of the two authors) approached non-governmental organisations and government agencies known to be working on issues such as child marriage and asked for assistance in recruiting participants in Mabvuku. The researcher was then introduced to Community Health Care Workers in Mabvuku who assisted in identifying and recruiting interested women who fitted the selection criteria within their community. For ethical reasons, at the time of the interviews, all participants - although having been married before the age of majority - were at least 18 years old. After receiving permission to undertake the research from the relevant authorities in Zimbabwe, data collection was carried out from August 2017 to July 2018 through the use of a semi-structured, in-depth interview guide. The interviews were recorded with permission from the participants.

The study rested on the use of an interpretive sociology which was essential in order for the researcher to construct interpretations of the social practice of child marriage by using the experiences, perceptions, perspectives and understandings of child marriage uncovered through qualitative data collection (Leedy and Ormrod 2005; Urquhart 2013). Although these interpretations cannot necessarily be generalised given the small sample size, they may be useful in exploring child marriage on a larger scale within Zimbabwe or in societies with similar characteristics.

Child marriages in Mabvuku

The majority (56 per cent) of the women who took part in this study turned to marriage as a rational response to fulfil certain interests which they held, includingescaping maltreatment and poverty, pursuing love and starting a family. These components were often inextricably linked, with 14 participants having in common the fact that they weighed their options and made decisions which they believed at the time would ultimately lead to a preferred outcome as compared to their prior situations. This can be viewed as an action entailing the “art of the weak”, which is used by members of marginal groupings who arc often perceived as passive and without agency (de Certcau 1988). As such, we move away from mainstream assumptions about child marriage as well as common understandings of the practice, seen as a dreadful inter-generational experience based on coercion in a context where children are said to be unable to consent because of their age.

We draw on the stories of six women who viewed child marriage as a route through which to escape from maltreatment and find love. We draw on excerpts from interviews to ensure their voices arc “heard” in this discussion.

In characterising their prior situations, we use the term emotional ill-treatment and abuse to refer to verbal violence, rejection, isolation and demeaning attitudes, while physical abuse highlights forced and degrading labour. Additionally, child neglect speaks to any deficit in meeting a child’s needs, such as the provision of food, supervision and emotional and educational needs. While some of the child marriage literature regards child marriage as a form of child maltreatment, child maltreatment can also be one of the drivers of child marriage, as children raised in homes where they are abused may turn to marriage as a way out of that situation.

The study identified orphans and children located in fractured relationships as being at high risk of child maltreatment and, ultimately, of child marriage as well, with the latter being solely a response to the negative way the girl-child was treated by their caregivers, be they grandparents, step-parents, aunts or uncles. Sadly, the maltreatment of orphans by guardians is not an unusual occurrence, as reports have alluded to an increase in cases of child abuse due to the growing orphan population in the country (Voice of Africa Zimbabwe 2006).

Broken families

For Rufaro, life without her parents was particularly difficult because of her belief that parents or parental figures play an important role in helping to ensure that children have happy, fulfilling lives. She viewed family as the cornerstone of an individual’s identity and, when her mother passed away when she was 15, she found herself alone in the world except for her stepfather (as she did not know her father at the time). The situation resulted in her deciding to drop out of school and find a job so as to not be a burden to her stepfather. During the time she was working, she was reunited with her paternal family, but they were quick to turn their back on her when she fell pregnant out of wedlock. This left her lover as the only option to fulfil her desire of being part of a family. As she put it:

For life to go well, it’s the presence of your parents. Once your parents have disowned you, there’s no chance of you feeling free and happy because your life is in the hands of your parents. . . . The idea for me to get married came as a result of the way in which my relatives were treating me. My maternal grandmother, my paternal uncles and my paternal grandfather were all rejecting me.

Although Rufaro felt that she was too young when she married, she also emphasised the fact that, as she had been neglected, she had nowhere else to turn to. Her very existence seemed centred around the notion of family, and life alone seemed bleak in comparison to being married. Rufaro was faced with a situation where she had to live life alone or start her own family. In essence, Rufaro made a decision which she felt would increase her social and symbolic capital and ultimately place her in a better position in life.

Lisa’s story is similar to this although she faced neglect at the hands of her biological parents as well as her stepmother. In Lisa’s case, her own mother treated her unkindly as she (her mother) remarried and had started another family. She neglected Lisa, who she sent to live with her grandparents. She was later taken to live with her father and his new wife, but this arrangement only lasted for a month due to abuse within the home; so, she soon found herself back at her grandparents’ house. While her stepmother was strict, her father also made it clear that he was not interested in raising Lisa. In fact, he only met her for the first time when she was in grade seven. It was after Lisa returned to her grandmother’s house that she met a 27-year-old man who she started dating up until the point she fell pregnant. As he initially denied the pregnancy, she stayed at her grandmother’s house and got a job so that she could start saving up and prepare to take care of her child. Unfortunately, one of her maternal uncles showed up and informed her that she could no longer live there and, if she did not want to go and live with her husband, she would have to find somewhere else to stay. Hearing this, the father of her child finally accepted responsibility for her pregnancy and invited her to live with him. Having no one else to care for her, she took up his offer and it is in this way that she became his wife. To her, a life with her lover and father of her child seemed a much better option than relocating to the rural area where she would have no one to care for her.

Although these decisions on the surface may come across as individuals exercising their free will, Rufaro and Lisa (as did others) acknowledged the effect of broader conditions on their autonomy and choices. Additionally, these girls’ backgrounds and past events saw them internalising the idea that marriage is a place where one can find love. This was particularly in Lisa’s case where she found her parents choosing their new spouses over her:

By the time I got married my mother really had no care for me. She didn’t want to listen to anything I had to say even around issues of my requirements for school for example. She just kept saying she only had money for important things yet she was buying stuff for her new family. My dad also would be saying that I’m not his child. These experiences were very hurtful. When I accidentally fell pregnant it seemed like a possible way out.

In the past, children in Zimbabwe were embraced as a part of the father or the mother’s family depending on whether gcnctricial rights had been transferred to the father’s family through the payment of the roora or bride-price. This worked out well, as whoever held the gcnctricial rights benefited from the additional labour provided by the children and so were prepared and happy to take responsibility for raising them. Where a marriage broke down and the woman left, or a father passed away, the children would invariably remain the responsibility of the father’s lineage and so were guaranteed a stable environment to live in. In contemporary Zimbabwe, the bride-price is no longer divided into different components that specifically cater for conjugal and gcnctricial rights. The issue of “ownership” and parenting responsibilities therefore create confusion, whereas in the past it was clear that if a man had not paid for gcnctricial rights, then the woman’s family remained responsible for her offspring. Additionally, instead of being seen as a gift and as additional labour for the family, children are now often viewed as burdens, and families take it upon themselves to decide whether or not the father holds the parenting responsibility, depending on what suits them.

This leaves room for children to be bounced around between mother and father if both parties want no part to play in raising the child. Ultimately, children often end up with their mother but, should she remarry, they then find themselves being sent to live with relatives where they arc not always welcomed or seen as legitimate members of the family. While children may live with their father if he remarries, it is often the case that his new wife is abusive to her stepchildren as she resents them and does not view them as her responsibility. In this way, cultural rules and values, which have eroded over time, no longer serve to protect orphans and vulnerable children from the situations they find themselves, in the context of present-day Zimbabwe. In such cases, it becomes very clear why orphans and vulnerable children often hold subordinate positions in families today and why, in simply searching for love, child marriage is seen as a legitimate and appealing option for girls who arc simply searching for love.

Orphans, vulnerability and mistreatment

In the context of this research, orphans found themselves in situations where they were taken to live with relatives. This practice is not unusual in Zimbabwe as the notion of hunhu (i.e. togetherness), which Zimbabweans pride themselves on, emphasises the importance of the community, particularly relatives, in stepping up and becoming primary caregivers when a child is in need (Gomba 2018). Though the concept of hunhu speaks highly of hospitality and extended families caring for orphaned or abandoned children, in reality this has been on the decline. This is because of various factors, such as disintegrating links between extended family members and the socio-economic difficulties that make it difficult to take on additional family members, alongside the shift away from the African traditional religion that underpinned the notion of hunhu (Gomba 2018; van dcr Walt 2003). These reasons explain why we found that the orphaned girls who were

Caught between a rock and a hard place 83 interviewed told stories of relatives (in the form of aunts and uncles) who showed blatant disregard for them, even going out of their way to make it evident that the girls were not welcome in their homes. The reasons behind this treatment were mostly unknown by participants, except for one whose paternal aunt’s husband saw her as a financial burden.

In this regard, poverty in a household may lead to abuse and mistreatment of children, because of the financial troubles arising. Along with creating stressful and tension-riddled family experiences, poverty negatively affects self-esteem and self-worth which sometimes translates into angry and frustrated adults engaging in family violence or mistreatment (Mabctoa 1994). Looking specifically at child rearing, Mabetoa (1994:90) states that “the materially stressful conditions may reduce the amount of affection and warmth parents could afford their children”, which may lead to cases of child abuse or neglect. Given that this occurs in nuclear families, it is not far-fetched to suggest that this could occur in extended families as well, and perhaps even to a larger extent in the case of children who arc seen as not belonging. Hence, at times, young girls (as in the case of some of the research participants) became burdens.

Like Rufaro and Lisa, Chipo, Itai, Tanaka and Kuda found themselves at crossroads where early marriage was the winning option. These women faced maltreatment in the form of physical and emotional abuse and ultimately viewed marriage as a way out of a toxic family situation into a more desirable one with a lover. These girls all had to live with various levels of abuse after the death of a parent (the mothers except in Itai’s case).

Chipo’s case may, however, be the most moving, as her mother passed away at a point where she was too young to even have memories of what life with her mother had been like. She grew up with paternal aunts, living in constant emotional turmoil as there was no semblance of love in her life. Instead of being taken in with loving kindness, Chipo was isolated and kept on the outskirts of family life, watching her cousins, nieces and nephews attending school and being showered with love. In the meantime, she was playing the role of the domestic worker who would clean up after everyone and cater to their needs, as if their blood did not also run through her veins. In her own words, she said:

I really wanted to attend school but this never happened. At my aunt’s house the others went to school but she [her aunt] would tell me that I’m the family maid so I’d stay at home and perform the duties expected of the maid. There were lots of us who stayed there but she expected me to do everything, from sweeping the house and the yard, cooking by the fire, gathering firewood, fetching water and warming up water for the others to bath. I ended up realising that she was taking advantage of me because she knew I had no parents so everything she would say you do it... I ended up deciding that it’s better for me to leave.

The decision by Chipo to leave the abusive family, where there was no love, is a clear illustration that even children have agency despite adverse social conditions.

Faced with continuous abuse, Chipo opted to enter into an elopement marriage with her 26-year-old boyfriend.

While it is sometimes no surprise that extended family members treat children like this, in African cultures it is quite unheard of for grandparents to treat their grandchildren poorly. But Itai and Tanaka faced abuse at the hands of their grandparents. Itai, who does not know her mother, had to deal with the death of her father when she was in primary school. She began living with her paternal grandparents and managed to complete her primary education using money that her father had left behind. However, she eventually lost access to this and, with it, any chance of furthering her education as her paternal grandfather was a retiree with a limited income. After a few years, she ended up moving to Harare in search of her biological mother and this is when she began living with her maternal grandparents.

Sadly, her grandfather was abusive because he considered her and the other grandchildren living with them as vana vemukwasha (the son-in-law’s children) and ultimately not his problem - they belonged to the sons-in-law’s families and were their responsibility (even though he had not paid the bride-price). This situation shows the confusion around parenting responsibilities as mentioned earlier as, in this case, Itai’s grandfather expected Itai’s father and his family to be responsible for her upkeep yet he had never paid bride-price, which in essence should have meant he had no claim over his child. The abuse soon led her to finding employment as she was not getting any food; and neither was her half-sister she met there. As she recounted:

My grandfather was troublesome. He used to say get away from here, you’re the son-in law’s responsibility and we don’t even want you here at our home. I just saw that the situation was hectic, we wouldn't even get food. My younger sister and I, for us to cat I had to make a plan and hustle. If you don't do that then you’re in trouble. There were lots of us grandchildren there but we all had our own siblings so it was you do your own thing, and we do ours.

It just so happened that while she was working and providing for herself and her half-sister, she met a man and there came a day when he invited her to visit his home. She agreed and when she visited, instead of leaving and returning home, she stayed and they began cohabiting. They had known each other for about a month when this happened.

Tanaka’s case is not too different as she also hopped at the chance to leave an abusive home after her grandfather had tried to stab her. At the age of 16, she found herself eloping to her boyfriend’s house after spending ten years living with her paternal grandparents after her mother passed away. What is surprising is that initially her grandfather, who had been good to her and paid for her school fees as a child, joined her grandmother in being abusive. She highlighted:

When 1 lived there my grandmother used to make my life difficult; . . . My father would not buy food so sometimes I would go to bed hungry afterbeing told that, if your father hasn’t bought anything, then you will not get anything ... I had a boyfriend at the time who lived in the area, so I eloped after I saw that the situation was no longer one I eould continue living in given that there were no other relatives I could turn to. That’s how I ended up married; I entered a marriage not really by my own free will.

As the subject of our last case study, Kuda suffered physically at the hands of her stepmother. Kuda initially lived with her mother but then moved to live with her father and his new wife, as her mother failed to find a good caregiver to mind Kuda while she was at work. It turns out that the situation for Kuda, after moving in with her stepmother, in fact worsened:

When I was ten, my stepmother used to force me to carry out difficult chores by myself such as carrying heavy bundles of firewood which used to hurt my back ... To escape from her treatment, I ended up running away from home in search of a better life, and that is how I ended up married at the age of 16.

As with the first two cases discussed in this chapter, Chipo, Itai, Tanaka and Kuda’s stories show how subordinate positions in families and low levels of social, symbolic and in some cases economic capital as well, resulted in a breeding ground for abuse or neglect of children, leading to them making use of the little agency they had to leap into the perceived safety net of child marriage, which they saw as a way of increasing their social and symbolic capital. Through this discussion, we sec how these child-brides’ everyday lives and “individual actions can only be understood by grasping individual’s structural positions in, and historical trajectories, across social space” (Couldry 2005:5).

Unexpected outcomes of child marriage

In modem times, given that the practice of marriage is generally expected to involve the union of two adults, female child-brides often disrupt the socially sanctioned form of a wife. Those who marry before reaching the age of majority can, therefore, face a diminishing of symbolic value as, instead of being viewed as wives and mothers, society views them as victims. This is a form of negative symbolic capital. However, while society views them in this way, this is not necessarily the way in which they view themselves. This ties in with de Certeau’s ideas of those in subordinate positions carving out spaces in which they “make do” by using the limited agency they have to their advantage (de Certeau 1988). Sadly, as noted previously, though some child-brides end up in a better position with no regrets, others find themselves in what they consider to be worse conditions as they face not only a further decrease in symbolic capital but also abuse (and maybe even contract sexually transmitted diseases).

In entering into a child marriage arrangement, child-brides might encounter unexpected experiences which go contrary to their drcams and aspirations. Their past experiences did not teach them to survive in such a context and this may cause problems which undermine their notion of marriage as a safe haven. Given the challenges they experienced as children in broken and abusive family set-ups, the idea of a safe haven was crafted in the mind of these teenage girls in pursuing romantic and family aspirations which somehow denied their past experiences, as any future seemed preferable to their present situation. In reality, their troubled upbringing did not prepare them to face the harsh realities of married life or the possibility that these marriages would fail. Rufaro’s situation serves as a good example of this, as what she had internalised as a young child (i.c. that fulfilment is found in a family) was in direct conflict with her experience of marriage, as her relationship and her ideal family fell apart in less than a year. However, despite this failed attempt at creating a family to meet her needs, she is the only participant who spoke of her marriage in positive terms.

Prior to entering marriage, Lisa had a reasonably positive image about the pleasures of married life. This is somewhat surprising, given that her husband had initially refused to marry her and had in fact denied fathering her child, up until Lisa was about to be sent to live her life at her mother’s rural home. Given the tension that surrounded her entry into marriage, one would have thought she would have expected to face some challenges. Instead, Lisa was surprised when events quickly went downhill, with her marriage experience consisting of physical abuse and multiple occasions on which she was raped (and, in more than one instance, even contracted a sexually transmitted disease). She regarded her marriage as a negative experience. Kuda, who in a way also imposed herself on her husband by eloping to him, referred to her marriage as a negative experience which ended with her contracting HIV before her husband fled to Mozambique leaving her with a new born:

Although I didn’t know much about marriage or relationships when I got married, I was certain I would be able to keep my husband happy because I had attended chinamwari lessons [how to please a man sexually] at 14. They teach you how to satisfy a husband but I soon realised that sex is not all it takes to keep a man ... All in all I would say my life was better before I got married. I didn’t know child marriage was illegal before I got married and I ended up with a man who infected me with HIV as he failed to disclose his status to me.

Tanaka, whose marriage began as a flight marriage, shared both positive and negative experiences of her marriage, which ultimately ended a year in and was marked by an incident of rape and many occasions of physical abuse as well:

My husband used to beat me. He was very troublesome. When I gave birth I got 16 stitches, six on the inside and ten on the outside. Four days after I gave birth, he wanted to have sex and he forced himself on me and I ended up getting hurt and this is how the big fight eventually broke out. After this incident he then started lying that I had told him the child wasn’t his. I ended up walking away from the marriage after he hit me with a bottle when our son was nine days old. Ultimately, we failed to live well together because he was violent; he even used to threaten to beat up my relatives.... One time he saw me standing with my cousin who he didn't know, and after that he hit me saying I was whoring around.

For Chipo and Itai, whose marriages both began in the form of cohabitation, marriage was also a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences. However, Chipo’s marriage consisted of abuse by her in-laws and her husband as well and the union ended in less than a year. Although Itai did not mention any sexually related complications to her health, she too was cheated on and physically abused by her husband at some point. From the six child-brides, Itai was the only one who was still married at the time of the interviews, although she had separated from her husband at some point and stated that she would not encourage others to marry young: “Even though I’ve had it good I wouldn’t encourage child marriage. People must get their own stuff and be independent so your husband can’t look down at you and show off about his achievements”.

Conclusion

This chapter has provided an examination of child marriage based on the significance of recognising that girl-brides are not mere victims of child marriage without agency, and that their lived experiences and perspectives arc critical to a more comprehensive understanding of child marriage. Despite the compulsion that seemingly characterised their initial entry into marriage, the girl-brides in Mab-vuku made tactical decisions in the face of limited life options, seeking hopefully to enhance their prospects of a brighter future. As young girls growing up under home conditions of stress and abuse, they sacrificed their youth by marrying prematurely as a potential avenue for filling a void in their lives - both emotional and material. However, their escape into marriage floundered, as they simply exchanged their status as children in the deeply patriarchal marital arrangements of Zimbabwe to the status of wives, suffering now at the hands of their husbands. Their tactical handling of the turmoil marking their everyday lives did not in any way reconfigure the patriarchy deeply rooted in Zimbabwean marriages.

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