Written by Chiedza Simbo
The Sunday Mail last week published an important article by Garikai Mazara titled “No Makanaka, you can’t fool us again“. At the time I read it, the article had 3 386 online views. I do not know how many more people read it from the printed version.
The article is important as it exposes the real challenges Zimbabwe is already facing in addressing child marriage. The article explains the reasons behind increasing child marriages. Law makers, activists, academics and the Government must take the contents of the article seriously if ever Zimbabwe is to uproot the root causes of child marriages and consequently end child marriage.
The ignorance and naivety exposed by the article is what makes it important and completely impossible to disregard. The ignorant points as explained by the article are as follows:
Ignorant point number 1:Children choose to get married
The author begins his article by stating that Makanaka should never try to fool Zimbabwe by portraying herself as the victim of child marriage, she chose to get married. In the words of the author, “if Makanaka is under the illusion that the nation will have collective amnesia and conveniently forget the events of less than a decade ago, then she has lost the plot”.
The author clearly states that Makanaka chose to be married at 15 years of age and cannot turn back and say “I was a victim of child marriage”, it was her choice. What the author completely chose not to see was that by being 15 years old, Makanaka was not capable of consenting to marriage. Even when Makanaka was married, a major was someone above the age of 18 in Zimbabwe and international law has long confirmed the position. Makanaka could not choose to be married not because of her capability to say “yes” or “no” but because those who pegged the age of majority at 18 had realised that below such an age a human being is too immature to know wrong and right and needs protection from adults.
Whether she wanted it or not, Makanaka was not capable of consenting to marriage and the adults in her life who had the responsibility to consent on her behalf are the ones to blame for her misfortune.
Child marriage, also known as early marriage, is defined as “any marriage carried out below the age of 18 years, before the age a girl is not physiologically and psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing”.
Our Constitution now clarifies that a person can only start a family from the age of 18.
Ignorant point number 2: Marrying a child is not a crime
The author explains how Makanaka grew into an adorable girl and how the two Alcatraz brothers, by their good will, dressed her whilst she was a presenter of Star Kidz.
He goes on to explain how 15-year-old Makanaka “forced her way into someone’s marriage” and how “her insinuations today that she was a victim of an early marriage makes a mockery of us who saw it happening before our eyes” and how she thinks we are “a stupid nation”.
Nowhere in the article does the author make reference to the illegal act of rape committed by one of the Alcatraz brothers. Makanaka, by virtue of being a child, could not consent to sexual acts. The author fails to realise that the actual problem with Makanaka’s case is that a man who was giving her free clothes took advantage of her, sexually abused her, made her a child bride, made her a wife, destroyed her future and divorced her.
The author fails to realise that the case of Makanaka is a clear example of the causes and effects of child marriage. Makanaka had been on the show as a child, the owners of the show had the obligations to act in her best interests by making sure that all those who were sponsoring their show would not take advantage of the vulnerable child in any way.
But, alas, Makanaka was not protected, she was sexually abused and lead into a child marriage. If a person engages sexually with a person incapable to consenting to such actions by virtue of age, they must be viewed as a rapist.
Ignorant point number 3: Mothers can agree to marry their children
The author states that, despite help that was offered, “Makanaka and her mother would have none of the nonsense and in any case Makanaka never wanted any help. They were resolute and they made everyone who tried to help them look like fools.” It is very unfortunate here that the author lumps the alleged decision of an adult with that of the child.
The adult is in addition to being an adult, the parent of Makanaka who was endowed with the duty to speak on her behalf and protect her since she was a minor. If, indeed, it is true that the mother consented to the marriage on behalf of her child, then the author must have a case against the mother for failing to act in the best interest of her child.
On the contrary, he blames Makanaka for being in cahoots with her mother and plotting to prey on an innocent rich man. As stated above, Makanaka was a minor with no ability to consent to a marriage. The research on Child Marriages by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) already shows that rapists rush to propose marriage and more often the families of the raped children agree.
Marriage is often used by those who sexually abuse minors, “to legitimise a range of forms of sexual violence. Marrying the victim is often a ploy used by the rapist to ensure that he is exonerated for his crimes”. Any decision made by the family on behalf of a child who has been sexually abused must not be informed by the desire of the perpetrator to marry but must be informed by the need to enhance the growth and development of the child.
If the author knows that Makanaka’s mother sent her off to be married at the age of 15, then he ought to be blaming her for marrying off a girl to a rapist. Strictly speaking this would be illegal and may make the parent an accomplice to the crime of rape.
Ignorant point number 4: They are not victims
The author writes, “typical to her shameless manner, she turns around and claims that she was a victim of that marriage.” I do not know if Garikai Mazara has a child for him to have watched her grow and seen that a 15-year-old is a mere Form Three or Four student who cannot make any decision on their own without persuasion.
Garikai’s sentiments are so painful to all sensible fathers, sisters, mothers and brothers out there. Makanaka was a victim of child abuse. She was a victim of sexual abuse.
She was neglected by those who hosted the show and taken advantage of by a man who was an adult, married and shouldered with the responsibility to protect her. Makanaka’s overall development was compromised, her promising future was destroyed leaving her socially isolated with little education, skills and opportunities for employment.
RAU stated it more succinctly: “child brides in Zimbabwe are more vulnerable to poverty. The practice of child marriages is one reflection of society’s negative attitude towards women revealing the fact that important decisions such as marriage, choice of partner, and women’s sexuality are all controlled by others from an early age”.
The man who married Makanaka at the age of 15 chose a marriage partner for her, it was never her choice. He controlled her sexuality for life by abusing her because she was not old enough to make her own choices. Although Mazara might not understand the premise in which Makanaka is called a victim, the law may direct him.
The Criminal (Codification and Reform) Act criminalises sexual activity with children and minors. The Children’s Act 2002 (Zimbabwe) defines a minor as a person under the age of eighteen years.
Contrary to Garikai’s sentiments that Makanaka “chose marriage, rather someone’s husband”, a crime was committed by a male adult who engaged sexually with a minor and such crime must be prosecuted if that has not been done.
Ignorant point number 5: It is their love of money
With utmost simplicity the author stated, “Makanaka’s marriage at 15 was a dash into material riches”. Before expressing the above sentiments the author contradicted himself by stating that “Makanaka came from a family of means”. If Makanaka was from a family of means then why would she need to dash into riches? Is the alleged dashing from riches of her father to the riches of her abuser not testament to her immaturity which was obviously because of her minor status? Zimbabwe, under both national and international law, is endowed with the responsibility to “protect” the rights of the child and this includes ensuring that all media writers write responsibly.
Garikai Mazara must issue a public apology for condoning child abuse, minimising the gravity of the crime committed against Makanaka and against Zimbabwe as a whole. As Africans we have the value of “ubuntu” which must compel Garikai to realise that the harm done to Makanaka was harm done to all Zimbabweans.
After exposing Makanaka to the Alcatraz brothers, Zimbabwe failed to protect her from the predators which saw Zimbabwe losing a talent. In the spirit of Article 16(1) of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which obligates Zimbabwe to protect the child from “all forms inhuman or degrading treatment and especially physical or mental injury or abuse, neglect or maltreatment including sexual abuse, while in the care of a parent, legal guardian or school authority or any other person who has care of the child”, all of us deserve an apology from Garikai who lumps us all into people being “fooled” by Makanaka.
Ignorant Point Number 6: Do not blame the (adult) man, he is the victim
Shocking as it is, the author clearly stated “the person who must be starting a Trust instead, must be the husband. The husband’s Trust would be on alerting rich men on life’s danger that there are girls who are so cunning that they will leave you broke”. It is so surprising for the author to assume that Makanaka being a minor appreciated what was happening to her when an old married man, old enough to be her father, was marrying her at the age of 15.
The man obviously took advantage of Makanaka. Legally he was never made accountable for the sexual abuse and exploitation of a minor. Is it because he owned a chain of stores? The author puts a monetary value on child marriage and states that girls in poor religious sects are the only ones who can be abused. He forgets that due to the sexual abuse done by an old man when she was only 15, Makanaka was separated from her family and friends and shouldered the burden of marriage.
By virtue of being a wife she was deprived of the freedom to interact with her peers. By virtue of her marriage her opportunities for education decreased.
At 15 she was exposed to such serious health risks such as premature pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/Aids. At 15 she was exposed to marital rape, she was a second wife and exposed to physical and mental agony.
What we ought to note as a nation: Besides having a clear legal framework which shuns sexual exploitation of children, or being a Christian nation whose Christian doctrine protects children, we ought to note that children are the future of Zimbabwe.
The future of Zimbabwe will depend on how we choose to protect our children from all forms of exploitation and violence. The future of Zimbabwe will depend on how much we are willing to unlock opportunities for children and to ensure that there is a suitable environment for them to exploit such opportunities.
We gave Makanaka an opportunity to represent us nationally and globally, but we also exposed her to the risk of being abused and she was abused. After her abuse what did we do as a nation? Blame her? Was it not better if we had not given her the opportunity which exposed her to abuse? If we had protected Makanaka, was she not the next Bonang of South Africa or the next Lupita of Kenya?
Is it not possible for Zimbabwe to have young successful females who reach their utmost potential without any baggage which we cause to happen by not protecting our girl child? Adults need to protect children and to understand that unlike adults, children do not know what is best for them, they need protection and guidance.
Children are the most vulnerable members of our Zimbabwean society and by virtue of their vulnerability they are easily persuaded into making wrong decisions. In our African society, children are a gift because it is through them that we secure our future. Child marriages are robbing our children of their future and robbing us of our future.
Child brides are powerless, susceptible to domestic violence, abuse from in-laws, sexual abuse, physiological abuse and economic abuse. They may die early due to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/Aids. Let us protect our children Zimbabwe, your child is my child, we have joint responsibility. Let us stop blaming children for our sins against humanity. I apologise to Makanaka on behalf of two men, Garikai Mazara and the man who married her when she was 15.
DISCLAIMER: Chiedza Simbo writes in her personal capacity and the views herein should not be imputed on any organisation.