Source: All Africa
DRESSED in tattered clothes and with nothing on her cracked feet, Faith (15) resembles a street tramp.

Perhaps, judging by her circumstances, she would envy to be one of the scores of street children that roam Zimbabwe's urban areas. They at least enjoy some freedom.

The impoverished family of the teenager has married her to a "better-off" 50-year-old man amid the family feeling the strain of worsening hunger at Chingwizi settlement established last year to cater for thousands of families displaced by flooding in the Tokwe Mukosi basin.

More than 1 500 people were evacuated.

Instead of it being a safe haven, Chingwizi has degenerated into a nightmare the families without a source of livelihood in a country where millions are anticipated to face another year in need of food aid to survive.

Some 1,5 million Zimbabweans, more than 10 percent of the population are affected.

"We would spend days without having a decent meal," recalled Faith, who can only be identified by her first name for ethical reasons.

"One morning, my father called me and advised me that I had to be married in order for the family to get food to survive. The man who is now my husband had already been at our homestead with half a tonne of maize.

"Little did I know the man had one day spotted me playing with other children and was eyeing me for marriage," said the teenager, who has seen her promising future dashed.

While some of her peers are preparing for end-of-year examinations that will lay a foundation for their future, she is contemplating a future as a young mother with her baby due in April.

"I blame my parents and government for this mess. If we had not been forcibly relocated to Chingwizi , I would be preparing for my final year at school. I will never forgive them," she sobbed.

Faith is just one of the many children in Chingwizi resettlement area who have been forced into marriages as families resort to desperate means to thwart hunger Chingwizi resettlement in the southern part of the Southern African country beset by hunger and poverty.

Children as young as ten, mostly having dropped out of school following the controversial relocation, have been forcibly married in exchange of food as hunger and starvation tighten their grip. Others are engaging in prostitution, exposing themselves to rampant sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

The situation has become so dire some villagers defended the practices.

"Child marriages have become common here. We have no money to lead any meaningful lives and young girls are either married or engage in prostitution We have no option but to encourage that as we get food," said 60-year-old Mavis Moyo.

Another villager, Silas Chingwe, reported some villagers had resorted to desperate measures.

"In order to get food, some villagers are now selling their clothes non-governmental organizations donated to them. We last got food from the government three months ago and some of the families risk starving to death," said Chingwe.

The cash-strapped government has stopped supplying relocated families food rations due to financial constraints.

Non-governmental organisations have also stopped supporting the vulnerable community citing lack of transparency in the distribution of the food stuffs.

Masvingo Provincial Administrator, Felix Chikovo, confirmed government had stopped providing food rations to Chingwizi families, citing a shortage of funds.

"It is true government has stopped supplying food rations to the flood victims because there is no money," said Chikovo.

Of major concern are the minors engaging in prostitution in the wake of the prevalence of sexually-transmitted diseases.

"We have seen a sharp increase in STI cases at Chingwizi and the situation is very worrying," said National AIDS Council Provincial Co-coordinator, Evos Makoni, without providing figures.

In an arrangement mired in confusion, in Zimbabwe, constitutionally the age of consent is 16.

However, the Criminal Law Code states girls as young as 12 can consent to intercourse. The age of consent to marriage is 18.

In a positive development, despite the confusion around the age of consent, police have continued arresting such cases if they are reported.

According to child rights groups, Zimbabwe is one of the countries with the highest rates of child marriages in the world alongside Ethiopia, Burundi and Niger in the continent.

It is reported 24 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years old in Zimbabwe are married or in a union. In some areas, the rate is as high as 35 percent.

Earlier this year, Attorney General, Johannes Tomana, sparked a storm when he was quoted as suggesting children as young as 12 could get married if they consented.

Tomana suggested the courts should respect the rights of the young girls if they decided to get married and start a family.

Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, the African Union Goodwill Ambassador for ending child marriage, denounced such matrimonies.

"The payment of a bride price does not bring a family out of poverty. The economic argument supporting child marriage is false.

"It just throws a girl into poverty. Child marriage almost always cuts girls' education short, trapping them and their children in poverty.

"It often leads to early pregnancy and childbirth, putting girls' lives and health at risk," said Gumbonzvanda.

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