Defying odds of the norms against the girl child

Regina Rumbidzai Pasipanodya

During visits to her paternal village in Gokwe South in the Midlands Province which is about 350 km from Harare, Zimbabwe, an area where poverty casts a long shadow over the destinies of young girls, Constance Mugari’s heart would bleed with pain upon seeing her peers being married off under the age of 18.

“Whenever I meet my peers most of them would be pregnant or carrying their babies on the back whilst doing chores like fetching water at a local borehole,” said Mugari.


The situation did not sit well with her as she saw girls as young as her becoming mothers at a time when they should be in school.

Mugari was born in Kadoma and grew up staying with her parents in Chegutu which is about 108 km from Harare. Gokwe which is her roots is one of the areas in Zimbabwe with high cases of child marriages.

Her story is one of a woman who is fighting and defying the odds of the norms and injustices against the girl child who would have grown up in a society where girls are coerced into marriage at a young age due to poverty.

Child marriages in Zimbabwe

Girls Not Bride Global Network is committed to ending child marriages situation that over a third of girls (34%) in Zimbabwe are married before they reach 18 years and 5% are married before their 15th birthday.

This has seen most girls especially those from disadvantaged communities lose their right to childhood and have their lives disrupted by child marriage.

To redress the situation, Mugari in 2012 established the Women Advocacy Project (WAP), an initiative that seeks to provide a forum where women could speak up, take charge of their lives, and encourage one another.

Over the years, WAP has developed into a haven for people looking for knowledge, empowerment, and release from the bonds of child marriage.

“Through this project, I have managed to teach over 300 girls critical life skills through creative programs. We have a soap-making program, sewing, quilt-making that focuses on empowerment and encourages independence among the girl child while imparting useful skills.

I believe these abilities act as a strong disincentive to young marriages while simultaneously empowering young women,” said Mugari.

Working with other partners like the government, educational institutions, and local communities, Mugari is spreading awareness messages of the dangers of child marriage.

The objective of Mugari’s initiative is to undermine the fundamental basis that sustains this detrimental behaviour by promoting discourse and questioning established conventions.

“I have seen that although we have policies in Zimbabwe that are children-centred, with some of them focused on reducing child marriage, in reality, these are not working especially in rural areas where the society takes it as a norm to marry a girl child.”

Some of the girls

“In most cases, in rural areas and other disadvantaged communities, girls are forced out of school due to lack of educational support and end up married off as young as 11, or 12 years. So I am trying to develop a spirit of self-worth, where young girls develop the stamina to fight for their rights and encourage each other against this cancer of child marriage,” she said.

Recently, Mugari introduced an anti-child marriage ambassador programme under the banner, ‘Speak Up, Stand Up!’, whereby girls are trained to watch out for each other in their communities.

Government position

However, through the Presidential Powers Act, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently exercised his executive authority to change the Criminal Code, thereby raising the consent age to 18.

This measure was in response to a legal gap that, since May 2023, has unintentionally served as a safe sanctuary for pedophiles.

However, under the new law, anyone found guilty of having sex with a minor may receive a term of up to 10 years in prison. It is expected that the recently enacted provision will serve as a disincentive for sexual predators, thereby strengthening the safeguarding of children’s rights.

Zimbabwe has committed to ending child early and forced marriage by 2030. It also ratified the Convention on the Rights of Child in 1990, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18. But despite this, girls in Zimbabwe are not safe from the practice.

Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hon. Ziyambi Ziyambi said children’s rights including those of age of consent have always been protected through the Constitution of Zimbabwe Section 81 which guarantees every child the right to equality before the law.

This section further emphasises the protection of children from all forms of sexual exploitation and the changes in the criminal codification will see that all the perpetrators of sexual abuse of children are arrested,” said Hon. Ziyambi Ziyambi.

Ray of Hope

Jane Moyo 15* who is one of the ambassadors said that the initiative has been an eye-opener of the abuses faced by girls in her community.

“We are now engaging in discussions and help each other as girls who are faced with problems and find ways on how to help her,” said Moyo.

Nomsa Maketo* who also commended the help that she got from WAP as a young woman, said she was trained in life skills a situation that has seen her grow, become independent, and marry at a mature age.

“I can now do my business independently, and contribute towards household expenses,” she said.

Way forward

Child Rights Advocate in Zimbabwe, Victor Chirimuta said  issues of protection of young girls in Zimbabwe are a cause for concern.

Mungari and team

“There is a big vacuum in terms of policies and mechanisms in the country that are focused on the protection of girls from being coerced into marriage or abused by pedophiles.”

He highlighted the issue of weak legal systems in the country, where perpetrators of abuse of young women are not taken into account and arrested for the crimes as a deterrent measure in the community.

As Zimbabwe puts the new law into effect, UNICEF has urged that the government should keep funding efforts to stop child sexual abuse, assist victims, and encourage all parties involved in child marriage campaigns to keep ensuring that adolescents and young people have access to welcoming services that support their health, wellbeing, and safety.

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