Ending Child Marriage In Zimbabwe With Help From Taekwondo

Child marriage is a critical issue worldwide. Due to the economic effects of COVID-19, the organization Save The Children said an estimated 500,000 girls were at risk of being forced into child marriages. In Zimbabwe, child marriage is widespread, and the United Nations issued a statement saying that one out of three girls are married before the age of 18. However, the martial art of Taekwondo has been helping girls who hope to escape forced marriage at a young age and seek a better future. Al Jazeera reports how 17-year-old Lisa Nyambupu from Epworth, a densely populated suburb southeast of Zimbabwe’s capital, would constantly see her friends getting married at a young age. Since she started practicing Taekwondo she has learned discipline, self-defense, and developed the motivation and inspiration to strive in life. She now sees a brighter future for herself and her friends. 

Nyambupu decided to join a Taekwondo training class offered by Natsiraishe Maritsa, a girl in her class. “[A]ll along I thought there was nothing wrong about getting married early,” she explained to Al Jazeera. “[I]t was at this forum where I learned that it is actually a bad practice which must not be encouraged.” ​​In addition, Kimberly Mupambawatyi, who has been part of Maritsa’s Taekwondo class since 2020, said perpetrators of child marriages, including parents and legal guardians, should face legal consequences. “[M]ost of us girls get married early to escape poverty. But I have realized that poverty can still follow you at your husband’s home. It is important for us to achieve our dreams first,” said the 13-year-old. The UN has addressed the issue on various occasions, stating that one key instrument to ending child marriages in Zimbabwe is to fast-track the adoption of the Marriage Bill. It recognizes child marriage as a crime, and rolls out a national action plan on ending child marriages.

Helping girls to find motivation and confidence is a step in the right direction, but legislative measures must also be taken. Zimbabwe’s Women Affairs Minister Sithembiso Nyoni stated that aligning the country’s marriage laws to the constitution will enable the police and judiciary to hold child marriage perpetrators and facilitators accountable. This is an important start to the process of abolishing child marriage and protecting the future of young girls in Zimbabwe. The prevalence of this practice prompted Maritsa to launch the 2018 Vulnerable Underaged People’s Auditorium initiative. Since then, the teenager has trained dozens of girls and survivors of child marriages. The practice of Taekwondo has had a positive effect on girls’ mental and physical health, contributing to a safer environment for them to grow up in. 

Despite the constitutional court outlawing a section in the Marriage Act in 2016, which allowed teenagers to get married before their 18th birthday, child marriage remains widespread. Laws in Zimbabwe are letting its people down and the country still has no legislation that explicitly outlaws child marriages. The Constitution states that a person can marry at the age of 18 while The Marriage Act sets the marriage age at 16 years, which has created major issues. Al Jazeera reports that an amendment to the Marriage Bill from 2017 seeks to align the inconsistencies in the current marriage legislation to the constitution. Fadzai Ruzive, a legal practitioner with Women and Law in Southern Africa, emphasizes the importance of singing the bill into law because it criminalizes child marriages. The law-making process is not as simple as a straightforward issue. It is dynamic, ever-changing and there is a need to balance the interests of different stakeholders, to come up with a sound piece of legislation. 

This issue requires immediate response and we must take responsibility for raising awareness and gathering resources on how to support communities in need. Fighting impunity and ensuring justice is essential. Taekwondo is one way of creating a safe space for girls, schooling them in self-defense and enhancing their confidence. Nyambupu is emphasizing the positive impact the sport has had on her life, and she hopes to spread the message to girls around the country. “I hope Taekwondo will change my life. I dream of traveling beyond the borders to participate in regional and international competitions such as the Olympics.” Since stepping onto the Taekwondo mat, she understands that her future will not be determined by marriage, and has never looked back. 

Olivia Berntsson


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