At the age of 14, Thembi Manyati (not real name) of Mafararikwa Village in Marange was married off to a polygamous man who was 30 years her senior.
Although those close to her say Manyati used to be bubbly and cheerful while growing up, the abuse she has endured at the hands of her husband who is now 63 years old has reduced her to a former shadow of herself.
The woman clearly needs counselling for her to be able to return to her old self again.
Sadly despite the physical and emotional abuse she has endured for the past 18 years, Manyati does not dream of freedom.
Her mind does not even realise that she is a victim of abuse as she literary worships her husband.
It seems like Manyati has become accustomed to her captor and feels that the abuse is an expression of his love for her.
According to health experts, Manyati is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, a coping mechanism for someone in an abusive situation.
People develop positive feelings towards their captors or abusers over time when they suffer from the syndrome.
This condition, according to Cleveland Clinic, usually applies in situations such as child marriages, child abuse and relationship abuse.
In Zimbabwe, child marriage is worsened by poverty.
In disadvantaged families, girls are sometimes married off to reduce the perceived economic burden, with their bride price used as a means of survival for the family.
In most cases, the underage girls end up being grateful to the men for “uplifting them out of poverty”.
In an interview with The Manica Post, Manyati revealed that while she dissuades young girls from marrying young, she will not leave her marriage as she believes that no one loves her more than her elderly husband.
“My mother died while I was only five and my elderly maternal grandmother took care of me and we were very poor. I never knew my father. He only showed up after my marriage to claim the bride price. He did not care that I had married young, all he wanted was his bride price. Who can blame me when I say my husband loves me?” asked the woman.
Manyati had her first child at 15.
Having been orphaned at an early age, Manyati survived on hand-outs from fellow villagers.
“Now that I am old enough, I have come to realise that those who married me off wanted me out of their lives as I was a burden to them. They thought that if they married me off, my husband would look after my elderly grandmother and cousins.
“Since I had dropped out of school upon the completion of my Grade Seven, I thought marriage was the best escape route for the poverty at home. However, if my life was different, I would not have married young,” she said.
Manyati said although she had thought that marrying at the tender age would eliminate her family’s poverty, her situation got worse as she now had to take care of her new-born baby with no income.
“I was told by local women that my husband would transform our poor family’s lives, but it turned out to be the opposite. We lacked everything, the poverty at my husband’s home was worse and I had to go back and ask my elderly grandmother for some money to look after my new family. However, with time, I accepted the reality and became content with the little that my husband availed for me.
“My marriage is still subsisting and I do not think I can leave my husband despite the challenges that I am facing, including the physical and verbal abuse. I love him and I also love my four children. Where will I take these four children if I leave my husband? I would rather endure the beatings and insults. I also do not think that I would be okay with leaving my children suffering at the hands of my husband’s first wife,” she said.
In an interview, Chief Marange said Stockholm Syndrome has become the order of the day in his area.
He said there is need to empower the girl child so that she is not easily lured with promises of a good life by older men.
“We fight child marriages day and night in this area and I have referred a lot of such cases to the police. However, it seems as if we are fighting against strong winds. After rescuing the girls, you will find them back with their elderly men.
“Arrests and fines are not deterrent enough to perpetrators. We need to continue raising awareness against child marriages among our communities and the girl child herself because once she is tempted by goodies, she is drawn to the old man,” said Chief Marange.
The Manica Post recently took the fight against child marriages to schools in Marange.
Mrs Wendy Nyakurerwa-Matinde, Editor of The Manica Post, said as a family newspaper, they are committed to actively fight child marriages.
“We want all girls, regardless of age or circumstance, to stay in school for as long as possible and achieve their full potential. The community’s job is to protect the girl child and because we are part of that community, we have joined the fight,” she said.
Speaking at an anti-child marriages public meeting hosted by The Manica Post, Advocate Tabitha Chikeya-Mwayera said: “Marrying off, marrying or being an accomplice in marrying off someone who is under 18 is a criminal offence where one can be imprisoned. Our laws are now progressive in terms of protecting the girl child, so as the community, you should not be found wanting,” she said.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency, 33,7 percent of girls aged under 18 are married, translating to one in every three girls.