Traditional leaders remain an important and influential constituency in Zimbabwe. As such the campaign against child marriage in Zimbabwe requires the full participation of this group to succeed in the country. This report outlines a nuanced understanding of how traditional leaders can become champions against child marriage in their areas of jurisdiction. Child marriages are steeped in a system of harmful practices which are justified using custom and religion under a partriachial worldview that has no place in any democratic spaces. It is thus important to highlight how traditional leaders as the custodians of culture in Zimbabwe can be used to fight these practices. A study by Safaids (2010) indicates that traditional leaders and structures remain influential among a large majority of the population in urban and rural Southern Africa. Traditional leaders wield influence and command much respect in their communities therefore are in many ways the gateways to any intervention seeking the participation of local people. They are viewed as the custodians of culture which makes them important drivers of change because most of the discriminatory practices are justified as culturally acceptable forms of behavior. As part of the governance structure, traditional leaders have an important role in the development of societal values and ethics, including those on child marriages. Traditional leaders have a constitutional role to respect human rights and to uphold family values. Within the confines of Customary Law and Local Courts Act, traditional leaders are part of the judiciary and traditional court officials play an important role in dispute resolution and in adjudicating cases on child marriages. In rural Zimbabwe these traditional courts used more frequently by the people as compared to formal state institutions for conflict and dispute resolution. They are thus critical in eliminating child marriages.
2.0 Spaces that traditional leaders can utilise in ending child marriages
Interviews and desk research provided various ways in which traditional leaders can be influential in ending child marriages. The research highlighted numerous spaces where traditional leaders have influence and can be successful in promoting community and government programmes against child marriages.
The judicial role of chiefs has to be understood as multi-faceted given that they enforce and also translate the law for people in their jurisdiction. These roles are important when discussing child marriages in rural spaces. Zimbabwe has multiple governance institutions and traditional leaders form an important part as shown by Constitution. According to the Constitution traditional leaders have the following roles:
- to promote and uphold cultural values of their communities and, in particular, to promote sound family values;
- to take measures to preserve the culture, traditions, history and heritage of their communities, including sacred shrines;
- to facilitate development;
- in accordance with an Act of Parliament, to administer Communal Land and to protect the environment;
- to resolve disputes amongst people in their communities in accordance with customary law; and
- to exercise any other functions conferred or imposed on them by Act of Parliament.
Traditional leaders are thus recognised constitutionally and this provides judicial recognition. The constitution provides for traditional leaders to resolve disputes and criminal cases but only of less serious nature such as theft and assault. This was supported by traditional leaders interviewed in this research who outlined that they sent serious cases to the police. One of the respondents however noted how some cases involving abuse of women and children are often not taken to the police. This is the case when dealing with child marriages where in some cases traditional leaders believe it is not criminal. Sibanda (2011:2) notes how ‘Chief Chiduku, a senator for Manicaland province in Zimbabwe and a member of the African Apostolic Church was quoted as having said there was nothing wrong with marrying off underage girls in a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee meeting.’ There are however traditional leaders who are doing excellent work in combating child marriages. Their experiences can be important best practices that can be adopted by other leaders in their areas. One such example is Chief Musana in Bindura. Box 1 below outlines his work as narrated by Headman Chiveso at a meeting on child marriages.
|Some traditional leaders are at the forefront of the campaign to end abuse of children and appeal to their counterparts to take the initiative. “We have put an end to all that in our area. We no longer settle cases involving child marriages at our courts,” Headman Chiveso said. He said all headmen under Chief Musana has been tasked to compile registers of all school going age children both girls and boys and to keep track of their growing. Headman Chiveso said the registers are submitted to Chief Musana who will follow up with the schools to establish whether the pupils were going to school. “He does personal follow-ups in the schools to see if the children are still going to school. That is where he picks up cases of those who have been married off,” he said. Once he picks up such cases, he then reports them to the police for further action in accordance with the laws of the land. The schoolchildren tracking programme started in 2012 and since then there has not been any known case of children married off in his area.|
They are however limitations in that they can only adjudicate cases which involve people in their communities in accordance with customary law. Customary Law and Local Courts Act further elucidate the judicial power of traditional leaders. When resolving disputes traditional leaders tend to emphasise reconciliation rather than retribution to ensure harmony among neighbours and relatives in rural areas which is problematic in cases involving child marriages. There are many cases in which parents have been known to demand damages and bride price when an underage girl is abused or sleeps with an older person. This is often preferable to all parties; firstly for the abuser they avoid prison and secondly the family of the girl get money or cattle and they pass responsibility of the pregnancy to the abuser.
According to the traditional leaders interviewed, chiefs have influence at the highest levels of government. They interact with government officials, judiciary officers and policy makers. This gives them unique access to influential people and offices. Chiefs are also part of the Senate and have legislative roles through the Chiefs’ Council. There are a total of 16 chiefs who form part of the Senate. One of the legal scholars interviewed in this research noted that:
Chiefs occupy an important political space which affords them access to even the president. This makes them an important advocacy asset. They can articulate and lobby with traditional authority on their side. In the case of child marriages, chiefs are an important asset in ensuring parliamentary and policy changes are achieved.
The idea then is to capacitate chiefs to play this advocacy role. The gender scholars interviewed noted the need to have chiefs fully engaged and invested in the cause. This can only be achieved through buy in and participatory approaches. The advocacy role of traditional leaders goes beyond lobbying parliament and policymakers but influencing their own communities through translating laws and implementing good practices. It is through traditional leaders that civil society campaigns can have an impact that is sustained.
In terms of social spaces, traditional leaders can do more to promote measures that reduce child marriages especially marriages caused by teenage pregnancies. Such measures include the promotion of cultural systems that provide guidance to young people in issues relating to relationships and sex. They can also use their influence to help households where families have disintegrated due to reasons such as death, divorce and migration. The traditional leaders should open their homes to children from broken homes and offer guidance, advice, life skills and social support.
Traditional leaders are seen as the bastion of culture. They are viewed as promoters and protectors of cultural values, traditions and heritage of their communities (Section 282(1) (a)(b) Constitution; Section 5(1)(a)(b) Traditional Leadership Act.) In this capacity, traditional leaders also have a spiritual role and act as the moral compass of the communities. The traditional leaders are therefore constitutionally required to promote good cultural practices. The problem however is how some cultural practices are not compatible with laws and international human rights especially concerning child and women rights. Earlier in this paper various studies were cited which highlighted harmful cultural practices as a driver of child marriages. Gender expert interviewed in this research noted that:
Culture is the purview of traditional leaders. If we agree that culture is at the intersection of the causes of child marriages then chiefs become the starting point to address this issue. It is chiefs who have an influence on what we can accept as good cultural practice as a society. We have a population that is largely rural and even in urban areas, tradition is influential yet at times some of the so called traditions are invented. I believe that when it comes to marriage of children there is need to engage traditional leaders in eradicating these harmful practices.
It is thus important to have traditional leaders denouncing harmful cultural practices that support child marriages as well as promote good cultural practices. It is however important to realise that since traditional structures are still largely patriarchal, there is a need to capacitate traditional leaders to address gender power imbalances and perspectives and promote the acceptance of gender equality.
Traditional chiefs are more than leaders in their areas. They are also role models and thought leaders who influence people with their actions. This is supported by Safaids who argue that, ‘Traditional leaders, as custodians of culture, and role models for their communities, are in a strong position to be able to address harmful cultural practices in order to promote the prevention of HIV and gender-based violence (GBV) within their communities.’ According to a headman in Mazowe, traditional leaders need to lead by examples and not engage in the same behaviours they are castigating. Some of the respondents highlighted anecdotal evidence of some traditional leaders involved in abuse cases. This also relates to elders in the communities who must also be role models and provide a good example for others.
Various organisations are involved in working with traditional leaders including Legal Resource Foundation. The work has largely concentrated on training and capacity building. Below are some of the organisations identified in this research which has engaged traditional chief in child marriages programming: Plan International, Padare, Katswe Sisterhood and WLSA. PSAf (2015:11-12) media briefing provides a short narration of some of the interventions focusing on child marriages as outlined in Box 5 below. It shows that there is a coalition of organisations working with various government institutions to fight child marriages. The research however highlighted two critical issues which may need to be addressed. Firstly is the lack of coordination, sharing and learning from each other amongst the organisations working in this area. Without a way to coordinate and share experiences there are high chances of duplication and repetition of mistakes. Many documents have been produced on child marriages by various organisations but access remains difficult if not impossible. Secondly is the way trainings or workshops are the many and at times only intervention when targeting traditional leaders. It was not apparent whether this is based on any form of research that shows traditional leaders lack knowledge or capacity to understand their judicial role.
|Safeguard Young People (SYP) UNFPA Zimbabwe, in partnership with the Zimbabwe Youth Council and the Ministry of Health and Child Care, officially launched the SYP campaign in January 2015. Among others, the campaign is aimed at reaching young people with messages of healthy sexual and reproductive choices through a variety of platforms such as social media, art, music, entertainment, public events and live radio discussions. |
Ending Child Marriages: 18+ Campaign An initiative spearheaded by the women’s affairs ministry with the aim of reducing early and child marriages in Zimbabwe. The major positive thing that has been done under this campaign is to hold meetings with chiefs who have since agreed that there was need for traditional leaders to promote good cultural values that protect children. The chiefs have called for the harmonisation of laws to eliminate the current confusion regarding the definition of who a child is. They have also spoken against harmful cultural practices, such as child pledging and appeasing the dead with children saying it is the duty of traditional leaders to ensure that these were not practiced in their communities.
Girls Not Brides Six Zimbabwean organisations are among the 400 civil society organisations from over 60 countries who form the membership of this campaign. These are Camfed, Dariko Trust, Katswe Sistahood, Padare Enkundleni – Men’s Forum on Gender, Plan Zimbabwe, Tag a Life International and the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association. The organisations have various programmes aimed at ending child marriages.
Plan Zimbabwe programmes Plan Zimbabwe is among other organisations carrying out programs on child marriage in various parts of the country. Among others, the organisation has worked with religious organisations and chiefs in a bid to help enlighten some of the influential groups of people as far as the practice of child marriage is concerned.
The National Programme of Action for Children The National Programme of Action for Children facilitates and coordinates the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of some of the requirements in the CRC and the ACRWC to ensure survival, development and protection of children. This includes child protection and security mechanisms like the Victim Friendly Units, Victim Friendly Courts and the National Action Plan for Orphans and Vulnerable Children.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission promotes awareness of and respect for human rights and freedoms at all levels of society. It also has the mandate to recommend to Parliament effective measures to promote human rights and freedoms and investigate the conduct of any authority or person, where it is alleged that any of the rights in the Declaration of Rights has been violated by that authority or person.
4.0 Practical action plans in prevention and elimination of child marriages
This section of the report focuses on practical actions that traditional leaders can be undertaken in their own areas to combat child marriages. This section is based on interviews and document analysis. It focuses on what is already present in communities around Zimbabwe. It is also based on the need to promote best practices from the work other organisations. What is provided below are suggested interventions which are also based on best practices that emerged during the course of this research. The important thing to emerge from the research is the importance of participation of not only traditional leaders but communities, women and children.
Loosely translated, Zunde Ramambo means “the chief’s granary”. This is a traditional system of food security in which the chief would designate land for Zunde Ramambo in order to grow food crops for distribution to the needy whenever the need arises. The programme worked on the basis of mobilising people to work in the designated fields on a voluntary basis (from preparing the land, ploughing to weeding and harvesting). Once harvested, the crops were stored in granaries that were kept at the chief’s homestead as strategic food reserves for distribution in the event of food shortages.
It was from this granary that older persons, widows, orphans and persons with disabilities were prioritised by the chief for food handouts ahead of those who could easily fend for themselves. In the late 1990s there was a push to reintroduce the programme through assistance to traditional leaders but this has largely failed due to multiple reasons including lack of funding. This programme however can be important in response to hunger and poverty especially in drought years so that families are not forced to marry off their underage daughters to get food.
This programme has been described earlier in this report. This is a system in which traditional leaders monitor then patterns of children attending school in their areas. This will allow them to quickly know if they are any children who have stopped attending school. It may not be full proof in documenting child marriages but this will ensure girls remain in school. Schools can be used as girl child friendly spaces.
Community dialogues have emerged as important platforms for community engagement for organisations such as Padare and Women’s’ Action Group. Changing communities through talking provides insights into how behavior can be changed through community discussions. Dialogues within communities which involve traditional leaders can be an integral part of fighting child marriages. They can be used as a means to share experiences and promote girl children’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights. This can provide a voice to all especially young girls. As organisations continue to work towards eliminating child marriages, community dialogues will be critical as interfaces of exchange and learning. It is within these spaces that communities can come to agreement for action to take to end abuse of all forms.
As noted in sections above, traditional chiefs are in essence the most recognisable form of authority in rural spaces. As such they are viewed as guardians of the areas they reign over and people in those areas have to accept and respect their authority. According to the legal scholar the traditional leaders thus have constitutional mandate when dealing with religious leaders in their areas. Religion (especially some apostolic sects) was highlighted in research as a driver of child marriages. Traditional leaders need to play a leading role in engaging these religious groups in their areas. They can take lead through advocacy, dialogue and training.
Most communities now understand referral pathways approach to reporting rape and sexual abuse cases which has been promoted by government and civil society. In the past rape and sexual abuse cases were not reported partly because people lacked knowledge in the appropriate channels of reporting such cases. Some areas however do not have the information and there is need ensure widespread knowledge especially among young girls on how to report abuse.
Homesteads of traditional leaders can be transformed into safe houses and spaces where child protection services can be accessed. This requires capacitating traditional leaders with material support and also capacity building through training. There is a lot of work being done in terms of training by many organisations but there is need to understand what is being trained, how effective the trainings have been and who has been trained over the years. There is need to have training material such as pamphlets available to communities through traditional leaders. The importance of training materials is that, ‘we were trained and after that we were promised pamphlets and material but till now we do not have the material. It makes dissemination of the information difficult. When talking to communities especially lots of people with limited time, reading material is important for further study and illustrations’ (Ministry of Women’s Affairs Officer, cited in Chiweshe and Meck 2014:17).
Interview with Chief Charumbira was instructive on certain specific activities that can assist in fighting child marriages. He argued that one of the major drivers of child marriages is the breakdown of the family unit. This however has not received enough research among civil society organisation. For traditional leaders in this study, the major problem with the arguments on child marriages is the lack of acceptance of cultural practices that can assist in combating child marriages. Chief Charumbira in particular argued that poverty has always been there in our communities but why is it there is now an increase in child marriages. He attributed this to the changing cultural systems where children are exposed to sexual imagery at early ages and premarital sex has become an acceptable act. It is thus in the erosion of cultural systems that now promote such practices as ‘sugar daddies’ (older men with money involved with young girls). Sex has been devalued and we now have what we call casual sex and many institutions such as vana tete nana sekuru (aunts and uncles) are no longer working. The erosion of culture that held families together requires that traditional leaders be engaged in all programmes. The traditional leaders also highlighted that to combat teenage sex in particular, there must be incentives for girls who delay in getting pregnant or get married after when they are adults. These measures outlined by traditional leaders may not necessarily agree with specific ideas civil societies have but there is need for dialogue.
Most programmes tend to focus on the survivors of abuse and rarely on the perpetrators. The fight against gender based violence has largely been promoted by women organisations and activists without much male involvement. The focus for most campaigns against gender based violence has concentrated on the survivors and not the perpetrators. There is need to go beyond the survivors and target the perpetrators so as to stop violence at its source. This is where organisations that work with men Padare become critical as they challenge partriachial norms and hegemonic and toxic masculinities which are used to justify violence against women and children. In settings where educational attainment is low and poverty is high, and where patriarchal beliefs have been entrenched for generations, religious and traditional leaders— usually men—are viewed as keepers of knowledge, of culture, as authorities on how to live. Ending child marriage is difficult in some settings not only because of familial support for it, but because of traditional and community leaders’ support for the practice: religion and culture will sometimes be cited as unassailable reasons for its continuation. Ending child marriage therefore requires us to work with men to address the socio-cultural beliefs and norms that drive this practice. Engaging traditional leaders who are mostly male is that vital to ensure that they motivate men in their communities to participate. Traditional chiefs also remain influential in cultural issues that are at the heart of patriarchy, GBV and thus child marriages. In Nkayi for example, traditional leaders have been very supportive of the programme. Most traditional leaders said they use the traditional gatherings to talk about issues revolving around HIV and also have special meetings for youths and women so as to talk openly.
This section is based on the findings from the research. There are examples from other countries of how traditional leaders can assist in fighting child marriages. Greene et al (2015:14) note:
Traditional leaders in Zambia are increasingly using public forums to educate their communities about the harmful consequences of child marriage and calling for the arrest and prosecution of people perpetuating it. For example, Princess Kapuwamba of the Lotzi people in Western Zambia, who is a commissioner at the Human Rights Commission and at The Law Development Commission in Zambia, speaks with parents and community leaders about the negative effects of marrying their children at an early age. By engaging in discussions with parents and community leaders, she maintains, sustainable solutions can be developed collaboratively. Another local leader, Chief Mpezeni, created a school scholarship fund to assist vulnerable children, particularly girls, to stay in school
Box 6 below outlines the recommendations that were outlined by the Panos Institute of Southern Africa (2015:27). The major issue outlined in the below is that traditional leaders must ensure that they must ensure that their rulings and activities ensure social justice. They should protect survivors and ensure that the law takes its course concerning perpetrators. Above all traditional leaders need to be at the forefront of cultural transformation that promotes practices which protect children from harm.
Box 3: Role of Traditional Leaders
|As the custodians of culture and customary law, traditional leaders can play the following roles: i) Ensuring fair justice delivery – In their administration of local justice, traditional leaders can ensure that their subjects do not violate children’s rights by presiding over cases and making sure that offenders are punished. ii) Facilitating community education on child marriage – This can be done through allowing civil society organisations to hold meetings and workshops in their areas. As opinion leaders, traditional authorities have a lot of room to influence awareness creation and community participation in addressing child marriage. iii) Incentives for guardians, community members – Traditional leaders can also facilitate the provision of incentives to dissuade guardians from seeing child marriage as an option for example facilitating food for work programmes. iv) Cultural transformation – Traditional leaders can spearhead the abolishment of some cultural practices which encourage child marriages in their communities.|
Life skills are cognitive, emotional, interpersonal and social skills that enable individuals to deal effectively with the challenges of everyday life. Traditional leaders need to invest time and effort in this area to ensure they capacitate children in their areas. Organisations such as Padare, Women’s Action Group and Seke Home Based Care are involved in life skills training of children. This training involves building self esteem, leadership skills, self confidence and self belief in children. Organisations such as Youth Alive conduct leadership workshops for youths in schools so that they can make a difference in their communities. In these trainings children also share experiences and gain knowledge about rights and obligation. They also get information about reporting abuse and how to access services. Life skills training for organisations such as Family Support Trust and Girl Legacy tend to focus on sexual and reproductive rights.
There is need to increase legal aid services for the majority of women and children who have little knowledge about their rights and obligation. Whilst it may be difficult to provide such services to all the people across the country, chiefs can prove to be an important access point. Providing chiefs with paralegal training is not enough if that training is not supported with a systematic programme to ensure they use the training to help people in their communities. Laws and policies need to be cascaded to the grassroots so that they help child marriage survivors.
At the time of this research, the court ruling which made illegal marriage of any child below 18 years old was still to be realigned with existing marriage laws. The lack of a clear legal framework hampers the fight against child marriages. The laws also need to be comprehensively explained to the people so that it is clear to everyone what they mean. This is because there is still need for clarification on what the judgement to ban child marriages mean in reality as Matyszack argues:
A blanket ban prohibiting the marriage of any person under the age of 18 (a child, as defined) is, however, arguably, broader than necessary for the prevention of this evil and catches in its net those that it ought not. For example, it may, in some circumstances, be a cruelty to prevent, say, a pregnant 17 year old girl and her 19 year old boyfriend, from marrying. That special circumstances might exist which render it in the best interests of a child, including a soon to be born or recently born child, that a couple be allowed to marry on the dispensation of a competent authority, is recognised by United Nations Convention on the Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriage (Article 2) (http://researchandadvocacyunit.org/system/files/A%20Note%20on%20the%20Child%20Marriage%20Judgement.pdf).
Another important issue is that research has shown that most survivors of abuse have lost confidence with the justice system. The process of conviction is long and often perpetrators get bail which makes it problematic for survivors. The criminal justice system respects the rights of the accused more than the survivor because of the principal of presumed innocence until found guilty.