With cases of child marriages in her community on increase, a 16-year-old girl from Epworth, a settlement just outside Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, is using taekwondo to raise awareness about the scourge of teenage pregnancies.
Natsiraishe Maritsa, who has earned several medals and awards in the martial art, believes that keeping the girls occupied through sporting activities can distract them from the social ills rampant in the community.
“I am using taekwondo to fight against early child marriages. I want to create an early-marriage-free Epworth,” Maritsa told Xinhua.
Epworth is a low-income high-density settlement 15 km southeast of Harare.
“The reason why I used taekwondo is that it is a sport that is dominated by men, so I joined it, but as a girl I have achieved more, so I’m going to use it so that the girls can know that even in difficult situations you can still achieve something.”
Taekwondo is a traditional Korean martial art and it teaches more than physical fighting skills. The sport combines a variety of techniques that include combat techniques, self-defense, exercise, meditation and philosophy.
Taekwondo also instills in its participants discipline, confidence, and an indomitable spirit, traits that can foster self-sustenance and financial independence among girls.
Many young people in Epworth have since joined Maritsa’s taekwondo trainings, and Maritsa uses the training sessions to educate both girls and boys about the dangers of getting involved in early sexual relations.
Maritsa said she started the initiative after noticing that many girls were failing to proceed with their education due to early marriages.
“A lot of girls have been involved in these early marriages and the number is really rife. And since they could not go on with their education, because they got involved in these early marriages, that means their future has been disturbed,” she said.
Maritsa said poverty is a leading factor in early marriages. Many young girls are involved in sexual relations with older men as a way of getting financial benefits.
“And most of them have dropped out of school and they find nothing to do in the community, they just decide to get married, and this will affect their future, they won’t be able to reach their goals that they have, the goals that they had while they were growing up,” she said.
“So I want to encourage the girls to get involved in things that are said to be unachieved, things people think that they cannot be achieved, so that the girls won’t get into these early marriages, they will focus on and they will try to reach for their goals,” said Maritsa.
A myriad of factors has been associated with early marriages in Zimbabwe, key among them being poverty and religious beliefs.
Despite various government intervention programmes and legislation that prohibit child marriages, the practice is still rampant in rural areas and poor urban settlements such as Epworth.
According to the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), 31 percent of girls in Zimbabwe are married before the age of 18 and four percent are married before their 15th birthday, despite the fact that Zimbabwe has criminalised all marriages below the age of 18.
Child marriage often ends a girl’s education, exposes them to sexually transmitted diseases, domestic violence and health risks associated with early childbearing.
Early marriages also risks girls and their children from being trapped in a poverty cycle. This year Zimbabwe made it illegal for schools to expel girls who get pregnant as a way of keeping girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in school, a measure women’s rights groups said would stop many girls from dropping out of school.