A Meeting with Dr Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda AU Goodwill Ambassador for Ending Child Marriage in Africa
Written by Michelle Negesa Otiato
On 5 th October 2021, Action Aid Kenya hosted a meeting in Nairobi, at the Pride Inn Azuri Hotel which was in honour of the AU’s Goodwill Ambassador, for Ending Child Marriage, Dr. Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, and was attended by the Chair of Action Aid Kenya Advocate Sam Muga and facilitated by the Executive Director Action Aid Kenya , Susan Otieno . It was attended by key staff from Action Aid Kenya and other partners namely Girls Not Bride, Girl Child Network , Youth Trust, Femnet and members of WREPA that included the Global Adviser Hendrica Okondo, Maria Safari Programme Intern and
myself Michelle Otiato Youth Volunteer.
The meeting started with a vibrant introduction session where most participants stated their commitment and passion for promoting women human rights and work in addressing the scourge of child marriage in Africa. They also gave glowing tribute to the work of Dr Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, who had served in Kenya for a long time as Regional Director of UNIFEM East and Central Africa, is currently the outgoing chair of Action Aid International and also the Founder of Rozaria Memorial Trust Fund , and who in both roles has passionately promoted the women human rights and created spaces for
young women and girls to articulate their issues at community national and global level has The AU Goodwill Ambassador in her brief opening remarks , acknowledged the support provided by Action Aid Kenya and the global Action Aid family in supporting her role and she asked that all partners advocate for the defining of child marriage as a national and continental crisis , for the inclusion of women groups and young women advocates in the policy dialogues and also she also made call for the discourse to shift from using a cultural lens to framing the issues using a human rights and accountability lens. It was a call for listening to the girls who were screaming for help in the rural communities who are still practicing child marriage. It has ruined and still ruining the lives of so many bright girls and not only ripping them of their innocence but also leading to some immense suicide cases. This affects the nation economically for there are part of building the community by paying tax if they had to work to earn in the coming future.
Action Aid shared their good practices documented in videos and especially in areas in Northern Kenya such as Garissa which has the highest number of girls who are forced into marriage at a very early age. Where the perpetrators are protected by cultural impunity and victim blaming, and there is challenge of high poverty , lack of social protection and services. Action Aid has responded by working with parents and religious leaders to ensure that these girls access education and health services. It was noted that a key strategy for addressing child marriage in marginalized communities should include advocacy for more domestic resources and improved access to education and health services at community level. It was also raised that corruption and lack of accountability
has led to the problem of leaking funds which has impacted the lack of resources in schools, , there is often no follow up and no explanation or investigation . These funds can be used to build more schools, reduce the burden on parents and support girls who are already in marriage. They may be able to get loans to start their own small businesses, to support themselves but also to escape their abusive and harmful households.
Some of the problems facing child problems that discussed in the brainstorming session were as follows:
Lack of access to justice. There are cases whereby it takes longer times for girls being sexually abused to get justice hence the perpetrators end up getting away.
Commoditization of adolescent girls at community and national level with girls in marriage being used as labour and caregivers without any social support or protection.
High levels of sexual abuse and gender based violence as girls are too young to negotiate power, they are being abused by their so-called husbands and being forced to preserve pain and trauma as for they have nowhere to run to.
Parents, cultural and religious leaders are not held accountable for violating the rights of these girls especially when the problem is framed from a cultural lens and their responsibility as duty bearers is not addressed.
Blaming mothers is wrong as these older women also experienced child marriages and are traumatized, hence normalizing sufferings as they never got the opportunity to experience safe and protected childhood and were denied opportunities to achieve their full potential. .
We also were able to come up with some solid solutions in ending child
marriage and they were as follows:
Advocating for resources to support girls in marriage
Child marriage to be declared a national disaster and research to be done on the economic cost and data on the impact of the practice on the well being of the girl child and the unlearning of the trauma suffered by the young mothers whose their innocence has been robbed and they have been forced into adult duties of care giving and social provisioning for the family
Resources to be provided for girl champions , especially from rural areas to participate in policy forums and decision making processes so they can influence and monitor funds at county level. Mobilizing girls to speak for themselves
Provision of safe spaces and local protection mechanisms , such as girls being taught to walk in groups of five and form buddy systems to help them to avoid sexual harassment and abuse.
The justice system should be made more girl friendly and accessible at community level so they can react faster to prevent child marriage and FGM
Seminars to be held in the villages to educate parents and their children on the importance of education and negative effects of child marriages.
In conclusion, child marriage should be considered as a violation of human
rights of girls and young women and has an adverse negative effect on the
economy leading to an intergenerational cycle of poverty. Parents, traditional
leaders, religious leaders and the government should join as a strong team to
fight this gross violation and be held accountable as duty bearers to uphold the
rights of the children as defined in the global instruments and national