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Fight to end child marriage gains momentum

Having lived in extreme poverty with her family, the thought of swapping a life of hardship for that of a wife proved enough to convince Martha to give up school in order to marry.

“My relationship with my family wasn’t the best,” she said. “I was poor. I had no education and no resources of my own.”

13 year-old Martha said she was kicked out of the house after coming home late one night. She said she felt she had “no choice” but to move in with her then-boyfriend, Tinashe. Two years later she was married.

Martha with her children at home
Martha with her children at home

“At first, the marriage was nice and easy. My husband loved me then,” she remembers. “After a year, things changed. Suddenly there were times  he [my husband]  would become physically violent.” The physical abuse reportedly continued even when Martha was pregnant. After four years of marriage and three children later, at 19 years old she left her husband.

“No one helped me [when I left],” she said.

“I was by myself. I didn’t go to school. I was busy being a mother.”

Despite its pervasiveness, forced early marriage has rarely been viewed as a human rights violation in itself. Nonetheless, it violates Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as several other human rights treaties, notably the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the world's most widely ratified human rights treaty.

Martha, now 28, said she shares her story to advocate against the practice of child, early and forced marriages.

“I want to help other girls who might be in a similar situation,” she said. “I would tell them to go school.  You become powerless if you don’t get any education.

Plan Zimbabwe, through the Because I Am A Girl and 18+ Ending Child Marriage projects started empowering Martha. She has become an anti-child-marriage advocate in her community and beyond. Martha is now running a profitable business buying and selling clothes and other items.

“Getting an education and access to these programmes is important because you get access to opportunities that you would not get from home.”

Plan Zimbabwe’s Gender Advisor Tinotenda Hondo, said child marriage is a huge trigger point for negative outcomes.

The greatest problem facing Zimbabwean women today is child marriages," said Hondo "These early marriages rob the girl of the right to a normal childhood and education. The girls are forced to have children before their bodies are fully grown."

“It forces girls out of education and provides them with extremely poor prospects and put them at a much greater risk of violence and abuse,” she said.

In Zimbabwe, child early and forced marriages are illegal — yet an estimated 34 percent* of girls will be married by the time they are 18 years old.

The consequences are appalling. Along with an education and childhood cut short, girls suffer a traumatic initiation into sexual relationships, are put at risk of domestic violence and STI's, and have the chance of a career or better life taken away.

According to a 2012 United Nations study, one in three girls in the developing world will be married by her 18th birthday–that’s 14 million per year or nearly 39,000 girls every day.

*Plan International is not responsible for the content on external websites