A woman who was abusing girls at a safe house in Bulawayo later confessed to having been abused herself at the age of 11 and being forced to marry the person who had abused her.
Bulawayo legislator Jasmine Toffa said the woman confessed after the owner of the safe-house, Margaret Jones House, held a team-building workshop after receiving reports that two women who worked for her were abusing girls aged between nine and 11.
She said on the second day of the workshop the two women broke down in tears after presentations.
“When these women were asked why they were crying, one of the women stood up and said as a girl she was raped at the age of 11 years old and she knew who had actually raped her,” Toffa said in her contribution to the debate urging Zimbabwe to adopt the Southern African Development Community model law on the eradication of child marriages.
“ When she reported the matter to her parents, they called the man that had raped her and asked him what had happened. When they took him to task about what he had done, the family then said, now that you have deflowered this girl, you may now take her, she is your wife.
“This girl was taken at the age of 11 as a wife and as a grown woman she says this man actually raped me every day of my life. I have three children and these children, I am sorry to say, I do not love them and I do not love this man.
“My friends that I was in school with have become doctors, others are engineers, others are nurses and I used to take number one in my class in school,” the woman said.
Toffa said it was, therefore, crucial for Zimbabwe to adopt the law because by protecting and educating the girl-child Zimbabwe would be building a nation.
HON. TOFFA: Thank you Mr. Speaker for affording me this opportunity to contribute to this very important motion. Mr. Speaker Sir, it is very important that this model law, the SADC PF model law, is domesticated. I cannot find words to actually emphasise the importance because if we do not take this model law seriously, we are actually contributing to the detriment of our economy. The girl child is very important and the girl child, if educated and given the opportunity to go through her schooling, to go and get to the age of majority, that is 18 and even further and further her education and become that which she desires to be, our country, our nation and the world over will benefit a lot.
This issue of child marriage does not only affect Zimbabwe, it affects Africa, it affects the whole world, but the extent to which it affects the different countries is how the particular governments are handling the issue. So, if we domesticate this model law and align the laws so that anyone found marrying a girl under the age of 18 is reprimanded in a very severe manner, that will deter anybody else from marrying a girl child. I also find the term of marrying a child not the right term. This child is not being married, this child is actually being raped because she does not know and does not understand what is going on.
Mr. Speaker Sir, I would like to give an example of what I am talking about when I say a girl child is being raped. In Bulawayo, there is a safe house where girl children are taken and being mothered. Their ages range from between 9 to 11 years. There are places here in Harare too that are doing this, but anyway, I will go back to the safe house in Bulawayo. It is called the Margaret Jones House.
In this home there are these little girls that are being looked after and there are two women that are employed as mothers that were looking after these children. It was found that these mothers were abusing these children. They could not understand why these children were behaving in the manner they were behaving. They felt that they were spoilt because they had been taken into this home. So the proprietor of this home decided to have a team building workshop so that these women could understand the plight that these children were in.
When they held this workshop, on the second day when presentations were being given of similar situations, these two mothers broke down in tears – Hon. Members, I think this is important. Can you please listen? Mr. Speaker Sir, when the proprietor asked…
THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER: Order Hon. Members. Let us have less noise in the House.
HON. TOFFA: Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir for your protection. When these women were asked why they were crying, one of the women stood up and said as a girl she was raped at the age of 11 years old and she knew who had actually raped her. When she reported the matter to her parents, they called the man that had raped her and asked him what had happened. When they took him to task about what he had done, the family then said, now that you have deflowered this girl, you may now take her, she is your wife.
This girl was taken at the age of 11 as a wife and as a grown woman she says this man actually raped me every day of my life. I have three children and these children, I am sorry to say, I do not love them and I do not love this man. My friends that I was in school with have become doctors, others are engineers, others are nurses and I used to take number one in my class in school. So you can see, Mr. Speaker Sir, when I say it is important to protect the girl child, at least give her the opportunity to reach her potential.
In other countries such as Malawi and Ghana, they have started activating and actioning this model law. For example, Malawi annulled 300 marriages in February last year and they did not only just annul the marriages, they made sure that they had a support programme where these girls were taken back to school by Government. The children that they had mothered and their mothers; the families that they come from were given support to look after these children.
So, I think that it is important too that when we domesticate this model law we look and make sure that we are not just going to arrest and put the perpetrators into prisons, but we also make sure that the girl child is catered for. I think it is important too, that we make sure that every single girl is afforded the opportunity to go to school right up to university level, because what is actually taking place right now in the country, in the different constituencies in Zimbabwe, you will find that the girl child will sometimes go up to Grade 7 and there is no money for her to complete her schooling. The girl child will go up to high school – will go up to Form 4 and Form 5 and want to go to university and the girl child cannot go to university.
So, I think those are the areas that we need to look at. That is what I would urge the Hon. Vice President Mnangagwa to please look into when we are domesticating this law. We need to make sure that all our children, all the girls, are made to go to school because they will contribute enormously to the economy. You can tell from even just the few girls that have gone to school that have managed to escape the scourge of being abused, becoming a wife or being a victim, that girls actually contribute a lot to their families and I think this is important and should be looked at.
Mr. Speaker Sir, when you look at the statistics of the child marriages in Zimbabwe, it is one in every three. It is about 32%, if I am not mistaken and of course it will vary from province to province, but even one girl is one girl too many. I was also a part of the construction of this model law. I am a member of the SADC Parliamentary Forum in the Human Social Development and Special Needs Committee.
Another area, Mr. Speaker Sir, that needs to be seriously looked into is the sexual reproductive rights for children and the youth. It is important that education and sensitisation is done throughout the country so that children understand. People or the nation at large need to appreciate the importance of sexual reproductive health. Also, when we come to aligning this law for domestication of the eradication of girl child marriages, we must be very careful that we also look at the issue of the young people that they have the right to go into clinics and hospitals to access services. For example, if they are not feeling well, if they have engaged or indulged in any sexual activity, if they feel that they want to be tested for HIV/AIDS or whatever sickness they may be feeling that they do not necessarily have to go out. This is because what happens is that when a child goes to a clinic under the age of 18, they are told to go back and get their parents.
That is another area we need to look at because if a child is forced to go back and go to her mother and father to get permission or to be escorted to the clinic, that child will never get the attention that they need or the medication and the treatment they need. That means we will be accelerating the scourge of HIV and AIDs and all the different diseases. So, I think it is one very important area. When I speak this way Mr. Speaker, I am not saying that we should encourage children under the age of 18 to indulge in sex, but it is something that actually takes place. It happens in our society and we need to look at it. We also need to make sure that this law of an adult having sex with a minor is seriously looked into. I cannot emphasise it much more because what is happening is, you find that a lot of people are getting away with indulging in sexual activities with younger children.
Another area that Hon. Paurina touched is the issue of brothels and night clubs that are mushrooming up around the country, that are strip clubs. I would urge the Hon. Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to please mann these night clubs and night spots. I would like to urge the Hon. Vice President Mnangagwa through the Speaker, that these brothels and night spots need to be looked at. You will find that there are children as young as 13-14 years that are being engaged in these night clubs as strippers because of the economical situation that we are in. These are the things that are forcing the girl children to eventually find themselves as child brides. So, it is important that we look most importantly at making sure that they are catered for in their education and make sure that their parents are also catered for.
As a country, we need to make sure that we are industrialised so that people may have jobs. For example right now, it is good to see that maize seed and implements are being parceled out. I heard Hon. Mapiki speaking about the power of parents. The parents do not have power. In most cases, what is causing parents not to have power is the fact that the parents are no longer economically empowered. They cannot provide food, shelter and clothing for their children.
So, these girls now find the sugar daddies and other people to cater for their needs. As a country, it is of paramount importance that we look at ways of making sure that we correct the current situation that we are in because if we do not do that, we will never be able to achieve the goal that we want, to make sure that all our girl children reach and achieve the goals that they want to achieve. With those words Mr. Speaker Sir, I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to contribute.
Under the proposed law, the woman’s marriage would be annulled if she goes to court.
Zimbabwe has already declared that any marriage with a girl below the age of 18 is illegal.