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African girls must be treated with respect, not as men’s trophies – Moyo

A SOCIAL worker Joseph Moyo says poverty stricken families are forced to marry off their girl children as a means of what he describes as a “shedding off of excess baggage for them to survive.”

Moyo, who is the founder and president of The African Women Foundation (TAWF), says child marriage is an act that violates human rights.

“Poverty for low-income families that struggle for survival, one of the ways they can shed off the burden of caring for many children in the family is giving out the hands of their under-aged girls into marriage. This is a way to transfer the cost of raising a girl to a man who marries her, ensuring that only fewer children remain at home in the scramble for limited resources. Equally for girls from poverty-ravaged families, marriage sometimes becomes the shortcut to move out of poverty to some economically better households, especially if their targeted man is slightly better off than their parents,” he said.
“This, to me, is ‘a throw overboard technique’. When the ship is sinking, throw off some load into the waters to lighten the ship and stop it from sinking. This is what low-income families do – shedding off excess baggage in form of girls for them to survive,” Moyo indicated.

Moyo further said that when a family is poor, the more attractive and easier way to earn some income was through the bride price.

“When wealthier men approach a low-income family with bride/dowry price offering for their daughters, it is hard for them to turn it down. These low-income families jump at these financial offers and give out their daughters into marriage, regardless of their ages and
unpreparedness. To some poorer families, the chance of owning a herd of cattle paid as the bride price/dowry is the only way to move out poverty. The bride price becomes the motivating factor in giving out their underage girls into marriage,” he says.

Traditions/Culture

“There is also the belief by some men in some cultures that marrying young virgin girls is a source of pride. These poor young virgin girls are treated as trophies, evoking pride in men, who regard marrying underage girls as bragging rights. In the same vein, there is
another belief that under-aged girls, who are still virgins, attract more bride/dowry price, which in turn helps to lift poorer families out of poverty. The girls are thus used as a means out of poverty. There is a rush in some cultures and a fear that if a young girl stays too long without marriage, once she loses her virginity, her stocks in terms of bride price diminish and plummets if she is impregnated outside wedlock. That leads to a rush to cash in before the value of the bridal stocks depreciate,” he said.

He, however, indicated that girls should not be kept as stocks that can be cashed in to the highest bidder and used as a means out of poverty.

“African girls must be treated with respect and dignity as a humans, and not as men’s trophies. They must not be traded and listed as stocks in what I call “Community Stock Exchange” (CSE). We must advocate for total and complete end to the commodification of the African Girl and Woman,” Moyo said.

Initiation Ceremonies: Are They Part of Tradition or Sex-Grooming Schools?

Moyo says initiation ceremonies are shrouded in secrecy, with initiates told never to divulge what they would have gone through, as doing so is seen as a taboo and would attract the wrath of the community elders.

“This confession is from informants, who are directly involved with initiation ceremonies from various tribes in different regions in Zambia, with whom I managed to speak. However, I found out the following problems: Problem One: The messages, in the initiation of girls from those who practice it, are problematic. Young girls, who go into initiation camps or schools, are exposed to explicit or sexually suggestive acts,” he revealed.

“Some of the acts involve older women demonstrating how sex is performed in front of the girls and then putting the girls into demonstrative sexual acts as a way of teaching them how to have sex with men in real life…this causes a lot of psychological trauma for the unprepared underaged girls. Most of the girls, who underwent such initiations with whom I spoke, revealed that they were put into intensive and explicit sexual training and were instructed to master being able to use their waist in some sexually suggestive dance
moves,” Moyo says.

He indicated that such ceremonies are nothing but camping activities, where girls are strictly groomed into mastering the world of sexual intercourse.

“Problem Two: Once these girls leave the initiation camps/homes, they are put under pressure to experiment with what they learnt during the theoretical inductions. There is no way a kid, who is trained how to eat, will then avoid eating,” Moyo said.

Moyo said girls forced into early marriages face a higher risk of HIV and other STI infections.

He says families of child brides are more likely to experience poverty and inadequate health care.

He adds that society must be educated not to dispose of young girls into the gloomy abyss of marriages as a way of acquiring supposed wealth and shedding off excess baggage of responsibility in caring for their children.

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