Proportional Representation legislator Ruth Labode says the issue of child marriages is a nationwide issue and not exclusive to the Marange religious sect.

Speaking in the National Assembly during the debate on child marriages, Labode said the focus should not be given to the Marange case only.

She said there is a need to call for a nationwide dialogue on the issue.

‘’The Minister, about early this year, came to Parliament and gave a report of over 5 000 girls who had become pregnant on a period of three months. These are all below 15 and 16.

‘’Currently, Mr Speaker Sir, if you go round all maternity homes where children are delivering. Even the statistics within the Ministry, there are 14, 15 and 16-year-olds.

‘’So, when we are talking of child marriages, let us not isolate it as if it is a Marange thing, it is a national epidemic, and we really need to deal with it in that form.

“First of all, we must say what is causing a normal mother to want to marry out a 14-year-old, let us forget about Marange, it is poverty,” she said.

Poverty is fueling child marriages
According to Labode, poverty is forcing people to marry of their daughters for fear that they will be impregnated.

‘’People are unemployed, parents cannot pay school fees and they opt to marry them out. If they do not marry them out, they go out there and get pregnancies.

‘’I think the Minister of Women’s Affairs needs to call a national dialogue on this issue. It is not a small thing. Go to Matabeleland South, you will see 14-, 15- and 16-year-old girls who have fallen pregnant.

“It is a national problem. So let us not cover our heads in the sand and think that we have dealt with the issue. We have not dealt with the issue. It is a reality that is going on the ground, please call for a dialogue.”

Women Affairs Ministry already engaging stakeholders

In her response, the Minister of Women Affairs Sithembiso Nyoni said her ministry has already started engaging stakeholders on the issue.

‘’I would like to appreciate what Honourable Labode has said. This calls for the whole nation not just to dialogue but to really share and make sure that we protect the girl child together.

‘’As a Ministry, we have already started. We had a meeting in Mbire in which we had all stakeholders there. These included chiefs, teachers, the children themselves and parents. This was well received.

‘’I think it is good that my Ministry is saying to the girl child getting impregnated. Being victimised and sexually abused is not the end of life. You can restart your life.

‘’You can rise and re-launch yourself into life. As we were dialoguing in Mbire, a young woman stood up. She had been impregnated and had been abused but she went back to school, pulled herself together and went up to form six. She got 12 points.

‘’We need to talk to the adults to protect the girl child but you also need to strengthen the girl child and make them see that there is a possibility after the abuse. This is what I am talking about Honourable Labode.

‘’I think it is important that we rally together and protect the girl child, period. It cannot be the responsibility of one sector. It is a national responsibility,’’ she said. -Openparlyzw