Friday, 24 December 2021

I SURVIVED A CHILD MARRIAGE : RADIO PRESENTER

As a child bride, Khulumani FM presenter Farai “Farie Jules” Magada (32) had to contend with a verbally abusive husband, who, at every turn, reminded her she was worthless.

She was often told nobody wanted her; her mother had sold her and she was shipped off like a cow.

Having been married off at the tender age of 15 and going through depression, contemplating suicide, being pressured to perform an abortion and eventually walking away, Magada’s story is one of hope and courage.

Child marriage, according to the UNFPA, is a gross violation of child rights and robs girls of their childhood, preventing them from reaching their full potential and in most cases, resulting in increased poverty.

The practice has since worsened due to the Covid-19 pandemic which has exposed girls to a number of harmful practices.

Findings from the State of the World Population show that all over the world, including in Zimbabwe, thousands of girls are, on a daily basis, having their health, rights and futures stolen from them through the prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV) and harmful cultural practices.

“I was married at 15 and was still in high school at the time. It wasn’t a marriage I wanted.

You know when you’re young, you won’t be thinking about marriage. You’ll be having your dreams, hopes and everything in-between.

I never actually thought this would ever happen to me,” said Magada.

She said she met her ex-husband through her brother-in-law and one afternoon out with her sister’s family would change her life completely.

“My mother is a very carefree woman, she’s very accommodating so she developed a relationship with my brother-in-law.

He would come and ask to take us out so he could bond with his child. So we would go for outings during weekends, spend some time together and go back home.

Then one day, my ex-husband tagged along with us.

I actually didn’t think we would come back home late that day.

On this particular day, my sister left me and took off with the father of her child and I was left with this guy.

We waited for them and tried calling but to no avail.

My ex-husband then insisted he had to take me home since it was getting late but I was convinced my sister was going to come through,” said Magada.

When they eventually got home however, they were met with a livid mother who was adamant she had to go back where she was coming from.

“My mother wouldn’t open the door but she opened the window and said I needed to go back where I was coming from.

I was so confused as to why I had to go back where I was coming from.

I tried to plead with her assuming my sister wasn’t home yet but to my surprise, she was already at home.

At this point I started to think the whole scenario had been planned because it also happened to my elder sister.

It honestly felt like a joke,” said Magada. She said many efforts to reason with her mother were to no avail. “She said I had put myself in that situation and I was probably already pregnant.

My brother-in-law tried to talk to my mum but she wasn’t reasoning at all, she wasn’t budging.

My cousin then suggested I sit in the car until daybreak and maybe my mum would be calm in the morning.

But morning came and while I was still seated in the car, my mum brought my clothes, uniforms and literally everything I owned.

She said she wasn’t taking me back and I was now this guy’s wife,” recalled Magada.

She was to become the wife to a 32-year-old stranger.

“I was at Eveline High School at the time and our family home was in Sauerstown.

Because my mother wouldn’t take me in, my ex-husband took me in and suggested we engage some of my relatives so they could talk to my mother.

But my aunt wasn’t around so I suggested we ask my mother’s friend for help, in the hope that she would reason with her.

She tried talking to my mother who insisted she wasn’t taking me back and instead the guy should be considering bringing lobola and not bringing me back home,” said Magada.

While all this was happening, her father had been out of town and arrived home to news that she had run off with a boy.

“My father was devastated because I was really young. But he never said anything to me about how devastated he was.

A few months after this had happened, my sister sent a message saying mum wants her lobola, how could he (ex-husband) just stay with our child without paying lobola.

There were a lot of threats to expose and report him so he would lose his job. I would go to school from this guy’s place. I was actually a wife who was going to school.

As much as people knew about my situation, no one did anything about it.

The teachers never said anything to me, they never confronted me about it. Even at church, they never said anything. It was just hisses but no one came to me. Even in the neighbourhood in Sauerstown, people knew about it but they just ignored it.

That made me really angry and bitter; why couldn’t someone just at least help me,” said Magada.

She said her ex-husband’s family did not know about her until an article about them was published in a local newspaper.

“There was an incident that happened which ended up in the newspapers. They confronted my ex-husband about our situation and that’s when he introduced me to his family.

This was only after about a year, when my daughter was about six months old,” said Magada.

She said she had her first child when she was 16-years-old and sat for her Ordinary Level examinations while she was pregnant.

“After my ex-husband paid lobola, that’s when we started trying to create a relationship but it was very hard. He would drink a lot and he was never at home. Our marriage was stressing him and it was stressing me too.

He was very emotionally and verbally abusive. I was suicidal. I don’t know how many times I tried to take my life. The only thing that would keep me holding on was my daughter,” said Magada.

She said there came a time when her parents reported her ex-husband to the police for statutory rape. “My ex-husband had said I should go back home and read for my exams.

But when I arrived, they said I wasn’t supposed to be there but with my husband. They got him arrested; it was in the newspapers and he was labelled a rapist — it was really bad for him.

Later on, it was found out that my family is the one that had married me off.

My mother wasn’t happy with the fact that I was at home and pregnant.

She started panicking and suggested I have an abortion.

Every day was about having an abortion, what was she going to do with the child, I was too young to be having a child, she’s not going to take care of it, I don’t even know this man.

It was very intense at home and everyone was always fighting about the issue,” said Magada.

She said her ex-husband later came to fetch her saying he was not going to abandon his child.

“I was depressed. I had insomnia and had to be medicated for me to sleep. It felt like I was going mad so I would drug myself so I could just fall asleep and die.

I used to do a lot of crazy things because I just wanted to die. I then decided to go back to my ex-husband because at least he didn’t want me to kill my baby.

After delivering my baby, I didn’t go back to school. It was very difficult having to cope with a baby because I was a child too,” said Magada.

She said 17 years on, she had tried to mend her relationship with her mother although she still could not understand why she forced her into marriage as a child.

“I didn’t understand why she did that to me when she should’ve been protecting me.

I actually stayed for 10 years in the marriage because I didn’t have the courage or the boldness to walk away.

I didn’t have a skill, I didn’t have a job — I had nothing. I had my second and my third daughter with this man. But one day I decided I wasn’t going to continue with the marriage.

I was depressed but nobody could notice. I was screaming for help but nobody could hear me,” said Magada.

She eventually gathered the courage to left the marriage despite the odds stacked against her.

“Each time I told my ex-husband that I wanted to leave, he would actually laugh at me and say where will you go, you are just a nobody.

He would say if I left, he wouldn’t continue to take care of the girls as much as he used to.

My parents tried to convince me to stay but I was done. My ex-husband has full custody of the girls right now and he stays with them. I’m just trying to pick myself up.”

Magada said she is working on a foundation that seeks to help women that have gone through child marriages and those that are in child marriages.

“The foundation is called the Pink and Purple Foundation. It seeks to fight against child marriages so that other girls don’t have to go through them.

I want girls to know that they shouldn’t get into a marriage because their family said so or circumstances are telling them to.

Poverty and ignorance are other push factors we have to address,” she said.

Statistics show that Zimbabwe has a 33,7 percent prevalence of child marriages with 5,4 percent of the girls getting married before they reach the age of 15 while two percent of boys marry before they reach 18.

In the National Baseline Survey on the Life Experiences of Adolescents (NBSLEA) conducted by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat), 41 percent of girls reported that their sexual debut before turning 18 years old was not consensual.

 Zimbabwe Gender Commission CEO, Mrs Virginia Muwanigwa said it was not only the Covid-19 pandemic which was responsible for child marriages.She said some families were marrying off children out of poverty.

 “What these people need to know is that marrying off their children does not solve their poverty.

 Two years down the line you will find the girl will be returned to her family and she will end up doing worse things,” said Mrs Muwanigwa.

 She advocated for the speedy adoption of the Marriage Bill into law.

 “The Constitution is against the practice of child marriages but as long as there is no law punishing offenders, men will continue abusing young girls,” said Mrs Muwanigwa.

 Government has made significant strides to address the issue following the approval of the Child Justice Bill by Cabinet in 2020.

 Among other things, the Bill will provide for legal representation for children and the sentencing options available for children.

The Bill also provides for the establishment of child justice committees at national, provincial and district levels that will be mandated with monitoring child justice.

Cabinet also considered and approved the Children’s Amendment Bill, 2021.

Mrs Muwanigwa said the Bill will be amended to align with the 2013 Constitution and incorporate provisions of International Conventions and treaties that Zimbabwe has ratified.

The Bill widens and criminalises instances of child abuse to include allowing a child to reside in or to frequent a brothel; causing the seduction, abduction or commercial sexual exploitation of a child and causing a child to participate in the propagation of child sexual abuse material.

The denial of medical treatment or access to medical treatment to a child without reasonable cause is also criminalised. Chronicle

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