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Zimbabwe Child Brides Fight Back in Court

Across sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of women are married as children.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of women are married as children.

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Two former child brides have taken Zimbabwe’s government to court in a ground-breaking bid to get child marriages declared illegal and unconstitutional.

Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi say child marriage, which is rife in Zimbabwe, is a form of child abuse which traps girls in lives of poverty and suffering.

“I’ve faced so many challenges. My husband beat me. I wanted to stay in school but he refused. It was very, very terrible,” said Tsopodzi, a mother of one, who was married at 15.

“I want to take this action to make a difference,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Harare on Tuesday. “There are a lot of children getting married.”

Data published last year indicates one third of girls in Zimbabwe marry before their 18th birthday and 5 percent before they turn 15.

Child marriage deprives girls of education and opportunities, jeopardizes their health and increases the risks of exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse and death or serious injury in childbirth.

In their statements to the Constitutional Court, Tsopodzi and Mudzuru, now 19 and 20, say Zimbabwe’s Marriage Act is discriminatory because it sets the minimum age at 16 for girls and 18 for boys. The Customary Marriage Act sets no minimum age.

They say the law should be brought into line with Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution as well as regional and international treaties banning child marriage.

The 2013 constitution says every child under 18 has the right to parental care, education and protection from “economic and sexual exploitation”.

It does not set a minimum marriage age, but states that no one should be forced to marry against their will and indicates that 18 is the minimum age for starting a family.

VICIOUS CIRCLE

Poverty is the driving force behind child marriage in Zimbabwe. Parents often marry girls off so they have one less mouth to feed. Dowry payments may be a further incentive.

Some communities also see child marriage as a way of protecting girls from having premarital sex.

In her affidavit, Mudzuru described how child marriage and poverty create a vicious circle.

“Young girls who marry early and often in poor families are then forced to produce young children in a sea of poverty and the cycle begins again,” she stated.

Mudzuru, who was married at 16 and had two children before she was 18, said her life was “hell” and she spent her days trapped in drudgery.

“My life is really tough. Raising a child when you are a child yourself is hard,” she said by phone from her home in Harare. “I should be going to school.”

The girls’ lawyer, former finance minister Tendai Biti, presented the legal challenge in January.

Beatrice Savadye, who heads rights group ROOTS which is backing the ground-breaking case, said it had generated a lot of interest both inside Zimbabwe and in other countries in the region.

She said it was unclear when the court would give its decision, but that it had to rule within six months.

Globally, some 15 million girls are married off every year. Across sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of women are married as children.

 

Sex Slaves in Cages: Mumbai’s 20,000 Prostitutes

Taken

Taken by Hazel Thompson (takenebook.com)

Guddi was only 11 years old when a neighbour persuaded her father to send her to Mumbai, with the promise of a well-paid job as a housemaid to help feed her family in her poor village in West Bengal in eastern India.

That promise was nothing but a pretext. The neighbour trafficked her to Mumbai’s red light district, and Guddi became one of the estimated 20,000 girls and women plying the streets of Kamathipura.

British photographer Hazel Thompson has spent the last decade investigating the sex trade in India after hearing that women in Mumbai were being held in cages “to break them” before making them work as prostitutes.

She described how prostitutes are indeed sometimes held in cages, without seeing daylight, for up to five years.

The only time they are let out is to service men, she told delegates at the second annual Trust Women conference, organised by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International New York Times.

“Over the years girls described the box cages to me, saying they couldn’t move in the space,” Thompson said. “These horrors really exist. Slavery is a reality.”

Guddi, a prostitute working in Mumbai’s red light district. Guddi is featured in “Taken” an ebook by British photographer Hazel Thompson, who spent the last decade documenting the lives of prostitutes in Kamathipura, India’s biggest red light district. Photo: HAZEL THOMPSON

The very smallest of these cages, which she described as box cages, are too small for the girls to move in.

“My question is:  ‘Would the men come to these brothels if they knew they were not paying for sex, but paying to rape a slave?’” Thompson said.

Guddi was not put in a cage but when when she arrived at the brothel, she was raped by a client and sustained injuries so severe that she spent three months in hospital.

Her story and that of other child prostitutes is documented in “Taken”, Thompson’s ebook published in October.

The book contains text, images and videos to convey a sense of what life is like in Kamathipura,  established more than 150 years ago during colonial rule as a “comfort zone” for British soldiers.

Thompson first went to Kamathipura in 2002. With the help of Bombay Teen Challenge, a local charity, she went under cover, disguised as an aid worker.

Her fixer was a former street criminal himself and his mother a former prostitute, so he was able to help Thompson “unlock the secrets” of the district.

Thompson found out that the cages were originally built to protect the girls, who were recruited as prostitutes by the British during the colonial period.

The police not only do nothing to stop the trafficking but regularly accept bribes from the brothel owners and give them warnings of raids, Thompson said.

“It is completely a lawless place,” she said, “which the police continue to allow to thrive.”

Thompson last saw Guddi in April. Thompson begged her to leave, telling her  that otherwise she would die there.

“But my life was taken when they brought me here,” Guddi told her.

Thompson’s ebook, Taken, is available on the iTunes store.