By Chipo Gudhe
Traditional leaders should be at the centre of speaking against child marriages and gender based violence.
The clarion call was made by Sanyati ward 12 Village Head Tawanda Hlabati at the sidelines of a basic news writing training for 20 male citizen journalists initiated by Gender and Media Connect (GMC) over the weekend.
Hlabati said as traditional leaders commanded authority in their areas hence people tend to listen to them more hence the need for them to champion girls and women rights.
“As leaders we play a huge role in changing perceptions. It is our duty to speak out against child marriages and gender based violence issues nomatter the underlying cultural issues. Most villagers from this area believe that early marriages are normal. When you speak out against it you are bound to be met with resistance. As leaders in the communities we shape the people’s way of thinking. The change we want can only come after we work hard to have a mindset shift,” he said.
He added that it is the role of village leaders to castigate child marriages.
Hlabati said over the past months particularly in the Covid 19 lockdown, cases of violence against women and girls were on the increase.
“Covid 19 disrupted livelihoods and this has pushed cases of child marriages and violence to increase. The lockdown had serious adverse effects as children were pushed out of homes into early marriage because of poverty. Families were marrying off their young girls for financial benefits whilst some girls were eloping after realizing that their age mates were married,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, Daniel Cholele, Sanyati District Officer, Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development said the increase in cases of child marriages and gender based violence were steered by increased contact during the Covid 19 lockdown.
“Covid 19 presented challenges as people were forced to spend more time together, this in turn fuelled violence and child marriages. Most children were out of school and were easily married off as parents sought the little monetary benefits. Some of the cases were reported but most of them have gone unreported. The community is now aware that it is an offence but because of cultural beliefs the people in this area see child marriages as normal,” he said.
GMC trained 20 men in basic news gathering, social media and digital skills.