By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of the World YWCA, shares her views of the story of Mirriam Enerstrida Michelo; a child bride.
She spoke slowly, firmly and clearly, though not in so many words. Each word was piercing and touching to the bone.
“It was in 2003 and I was in grade 7. I was 12 years old. My mother informed me that I was to be married to this big man. After that I stopped going to school. They put me in this small room. I was sleeping on bricks. I was kept naked. I was taught how to handle a man. It was there for 3 months. I was then rescued by the YWCA and the Victim Friendly Unit of the Police”. Mirriam, sharing her story as survivor of forced and child marriage at the UN Human Rights Council this week.
At first, I thought I had not heard clearly. She was taken against her will and kept in confinement for 3 months, naked! When she resisted, or complained they would beat her up. This was her own parents and her own community. The prospective groom had paid her parent some bride price. Indeed poverty, one could say. Neither culture nor poverty can be used to justify this treatment of girls.
As she narrated her story, I could feel a lump on my throat. Injustice, abduction, kidnapping torture, violation, abuse, inhuman and degrading treatment are some of the words that rushed to my mind. All these are criminal acts.
What really happened during those 3 months, only Mirriam knows! At least, I know that she did sing a special song, and it gave her hope.
And I still search for justice. Yes, at least the Zambian police was proactive and responsive. Yes, they were at hand to act as a true “Victim Friendly Unit”, and rescued her. Yes, Mirriam finally found emergency shelter, went back to school and finished her secondary education. One day, hopefully soon, she will be a nurse, now that some angel answered her prayers and she got a scholarship.
But my mind wonders back again, to that day and that room where Mirriam was confined. How many girls have been held there against their will? How many have endured the torture and trauma of being prepared for sexual abuse and rape? It is clear that when a marriage is forced, sexual encounter is without consent. Therefore cased of forced marriage are all cases of sanctioned rape!
I am searching for words. Girls like Mirriam, should not be called BRIDES. Should we really continue to talk about child and forced “marriage”? The essence of marriage is love, mutual respect and consent. Is society not giving a moral and legal cloak to a criminal, socially abhorrent practice, by continuously referring to “child and forced marriage”?
For sure, we can all roll up our sleeves and end this practice within a single generation. It’s a moral, legal, political, economic and social imperative. Who are we to deny 39,000 girls each day a world of education and opportunities? I remain on my feet, with the Mirriams of this world. Silence and inaction is NOT an option.
Some sobering fact: this year, 14 million girls — some as young as eight years old — will be married against their will.