An increasing number of boys in Zimbabwe are marrying before their 15th birthday, research by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency shows.
Over the years, patriarchy, religion and abuse have seen girls being married off early.
Though this has roundly been criticised, with the law being refined to provide better protection, unions involving boys have remained pretty much under wraps.
Now, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey Report 2014 says 2 374 males out of 7 914 interviewed in 2014 were in such circumstances.
The report also reveals that 2 279 out of 5 846 interviewees had wives before they even turned 18.
Mashonaland East and Matabeleland South have the highest figures (15 and below) at 434 and 413 respectively; with poverty, orphanhood, familial obligations, and religious and cultural values as key factors.
Fifteen to 54-year-olds participated in the survey.
The Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11) sets the minimum age of marriage at 16 for girls and 18 for boys, while the Customary Marriages Act (Chapter 5:07) has no age limits.
Plan International communications manager Ms Angela Machonesa told The Sunday Mail, “The major driver of early marriages among boys is impregnating their lovers. They are then forced to marry these partners even if they aren’t ready to settle down. This is a result of early sexual debuts by adolescents.”
Padare/Enkundleni/Men’s Forum national director Mr Kevin Hazangwi added: “The sad reality is that child marriage programmes are mainly focused on girls, disregarding the fact that boys are also affected. What is needed now is a comprehensive sex education for adolescents and all youths to understand their bodies so they delay sexual debuts.
“Even though there is a high percentage of child marriages involving girls, the affected boys fail to acquire skills to empower themselves to become family providers. They end up feeling emasculated, and are denied a decent livelihood.”
According to data from the United Nations Children’s Fund, 33 million men married before age 15, and 156 million others before turning 18.