Saturday, 1 May 2021

CHILD BRIDES : WE TURNED OUR LIVES AROUND

At 15, Catherine Muponda was already a mother and living with a husband who was twice her age.

The marriage was unbearable; the man was abusive. She hated herself and the life she was living.On many occasions, she even contemplated suicide.

“I was only 15-years-old and I was in love with a man who was 30 and stayed in Harare while I stayed here in Madziwa,” Catherine said, recounting her ordeal to The Sunday Mail.

“He was more experienced and I guess that is how he took advantage of me. “When I got pregnant, he refused to take responsibility and my parents chased me away from home.”

She then relocated to Harare to stay with her sister, but life in the big city was proving unbearable on account of poverty. It was then that she met another man, aged 34, who said he was willing to take care of her and her young daughter.

Catherine had fallen into the maze of child marriage, which accounts for hundreds of young Zimbabwean girls every year.

“I was desperate, so I accepted the offer despite the fact that he was not the father of my child. Little did I know that I was jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

“A few months after moving in with him, he became abusive and would beat me up for no reason. He was verbally abusive, called me hurtful names. During all the time I lived with him, he never gave me money even to buy a loaf of bread.”

After two years, Catherine decided to walk away from the marriage before asking for forgiveness from her parents who took her back in.

It was then that she decided to resuscitate her long held dream of completing her studies. Fortunately for her, she had already passed her Ordinary Levels with flying colours.

She immediately registered for A-Level studies in 2019. Seven years after plunging into misfortune and in the process abandoning her dream of becoming a lawyer, Catherine finally completed her basic education last year.

Last week, she was among the thousands of 2020 A-Level candidates who collected their exam results. Astonishingly, Catherine aced the examination, scoring 15 points. Now she is preparing to enrol with a local university to study for a law degree.

She has secured funding from the Rozaria Memorial Trust, which provides financial and physiological assistance to child brides who opt to go back to school. “It was not easy going back to school. Society does not forgive and forget easily.

“The community labels you a bad apple and that can potentially harm you. Oftentimes, you are treated as an outcast.

“You are called names which are meant to humiliate and bring you down and you are always reminded of your past mistakes. “As a result you are never really free to express yourself.”

Catherine said there were times she contemplated quitting because of the pressure and stereotyping. Luckily, she received a lot of counselling, which helped her through the tough times.

The Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant lockdowns, however, emerged and threatened her dream. She said there was little in-class learning during her final year and she had to go beyond the normal in order to continue learning.

“We had to walk long distances in search of tutors who were willing to teach for free or for very little money which my classmates and I could afford.”

Powered by extraordinary determination, Catherine vowed to use her second chance to change her life in spite of the challenges. “Because of the ordeal I went through at the hands of abusive men, I want to be a lawyer,” she said.

“I want to use that to help defend and uplift women and girls who are going through what I went through.”

Just like Catherine, Samantha Chidodo (22) of Shamva returned from an abusive marriage to continue with her studies.

“At 17, I fell pregnant and moved in with my boyfriend who was aged 21 at the time,” said Samantha. “A few months into the marriage, I realised that I had taken a wrong turn.

“I went back home, luckily my parents took me back in. I later went back for my A’ Level studies with assistance from Rozaria Trust. “I was grateful for the second chance and swore to use it wisely.”

Samantha scored 12 points in last year’s exams. Rozaria Memorial Trust chief executive, Dr Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, said she was proud of the girls being supported by her trust.

“We are very proud of the girls, it was not an easy road but they pulled through,” said Dr Gumbonzvanda. “Our organisation will continue assisting young women in such predicaments.”

In many developing countries including Zimbabwe, most cases of child marriages are attributed to poverty, gender discrimination, lack of education and peer pressure among others.

A recent report by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development indicated that nearly 5 000 girls of school going age had fallen pregnant during the Covid-19 induced national lockdown.

Government has pledged to eliminate the menace by 2030 in line with Goal number 5.3 under the Sustainable Development Goals. Sunday Mail

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