For those who have seen the #MyStory posts on our social media pages you've seen the video interviews we've been posting of child marriage survivors telling their stories. I had the opportunity to take a trip to Mazowe in Zimbabwe for these interviews, an area where child marriage is very prevalent. Going in I thought the stories I would hear would be of children being forced into marriage by parents and guardians, and while there were those cases, what surprised me was that most of the girls we spoke to actually chose to get married.
Many of these girls come from backgrounds of poverty, where having more than one meal a day is a luxury. Some come from broken homes where the people who are meant to care for and protect them condemn and victimize them. For these girls, given their bleak reality and limited options, marriage seems like a golden ticket to a better life, and being as naïve and desperate as they are at 15 or 16 years old with little more than a 7th grade education they become easy targets for older men who propose marriage and promise them the world; a promise which they almost never keep. It's hard to imagine having to make a choice between starving at home or getting married at such a young age, and that is a decision no child should ever have to make. So when I say they chose to get married, really, the more accurate term to use is they’re coerced.
Once in these marriages their hopes are shattered. Issues with their husbands' infidelity, drinking and abuse soon surface. The life of poverty they sought to escape remains their reality with their husbands earning little to support their families and others outright refusing to do so even if they have the means. These girls are left to fend for themselves and their children, when they’re still children, doing their best to make ends meet.
When asked what they would want to do if they could do anything, anything at all, most of them responded they would want to sell tomatoes or do any other work they can do with their hands so they can support their families. Now this stirred up two different sentiments; one being that it's amazing that at such a young age they weren't just looking for handouts, they wanted to put in the work to support themselves and their families and a build a better future. On the other hand it was sad that as young as they were, given the option to do absolutely anything with no limitations, almost none of them said they would aim to do anything particularly remarkable, they just wanted to be able to get by. Child marriage robs girls of their futures in so many ways, including crushing their dreams and killing their child like sense of possibility.
This experience really shifted my perspective. The mission as Rated 18 Shoes was always to empower child marriage survivors by providing them with financial resources through their salaries or sponsoring their education. But I realized that in order to create true and lasting impact, Rated 18 has to purposefully and intentionally go much deeper than that; we have to be a conduit and platform on which dreams can be rebuilt. We have to reignite the flame and passion that has been put out in these girls, and if we can awaken something meaningful and powerful within just one person, only then have we done our job.