“What can she say” Exploring the negative impact of child marriages on women’s meaningful participation in the public sphere
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Having been born in a family of 13 by a woman who got married at 15 years of age and was abused, oppressed and refused her right to education and to participate in the public sphere, as a women’s law researcher I seek explore the negative impact of child marriages on women participation in the public sphere. Child marriage is one of the factors that diminish women capacity and agency which then leads to ineffective participation. The international and regional instruments and the constitution Zimbabwe protect girls from child marriage and provide the right for women participation in decision making positions. Be that as it may, lack of resources, trivialisation of child marriage practise by law enforcement agents, the courts and other state institutions and lack of political will is fuelling early marriages in Epworth. Culture and traditional beliefs and practises that encourage child marriage regard the public sphere as a place for men and that, women should participate according to the roles assigned to them in the family and society. Different methodological approaches where employed in the field research which included the women’s law, grounded and the human rights approach as they unearthed women lived realities through the one on one interviews, focus group discussions, key informants interviews and observations. The interviews revealed that most child brides do not meaningfully participate in the public sphere. Most of them drop out of school, are abused, oppressed and forced into submission. Their capabilities are deformed and most of them have resorted to vegetable vending and sex working as a way of living. The law enforcement agents have trivialised the child marriage practise and the lack of effective implementation of the best interests of the child principle has exposed girls to sexual abuse and exploitation which eventually leads to child marriages. Cultural practise of payment of lobola and poverty has reduced girls into commodities for sell and pushes them into early marriage. Though the Education Policy and Education Act provides for the right to education and the Constitution has provided for the same right to be provided freely, the right is limited to availability of resources to which the state has prioritised the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of indigenization and very little to state funded education for children coming from poor families. It is recommended that there is need to effectively implement constitutional provisions that protect girls from child marriages and for the state to resource the education policy and social welfare.