The Impact of Child Marriages on Generational Trauma
I have been a part of a research study conducted in collaboration with UCL, RMT and WUA for the past two years on mental health and child marriages in Shamva District, as we know child marriage rates are highest in the nation in Mashonaland Central. In a previous, shorter study where we implemented a delphi study, we found that there are currently few or non-existent interventions available to address the mental health trauma and distress brought on by child marriages. Designing effective interventions is challenging due to the lack of empirical and scholarly research on the psycho-social effects of early and forced marriages on a larger global scale. Furthermore, the effects this has on different generations have not been studied. This has been one of the most intriguing discoveries I have made as a researcher for this project.
I have noticed that while I have been hearing women's stories and speaking with their peers and families, there seems to be a generational trauma component. There was a residual effect from previous family situations. People who disclosed, for instance, that they were raised in homes where there was domestic abuse or that only had one parent would say that even as adults, they struggled with trust and found it difficult to establish lasting, close relationships as adults. This element of trust was observed not only with individuals but also with institutions. For example, people would be reluctant to ask for assistance and use services offered by the government and other development partners if they had seen someone in the past seek help and not receive enough relief. In households where child marriage was, in a way, almost normalized, the women were less likely to leave their marriages as adults even when dissatisfied and more likely to support their own daughters in getting into similar premature unions.
When the younger participants discussed their experiences from the past and their current circumstances, it was observed that there was a tone of resentment and rage. For certain individuals, this negatively affected and shaped their parenting approaches, leading them to communicate with their kids in a very harsh & strict manner.
While discussing PSS and mental health support for gender-based violence, including child marriage and other forms of abuse, we must take into account those who surround survivors as well as themselves. Since children are especially vulnerable, deliberate efforts must be made to comprehend this phenomenon and find long-term, community-based solutions.
Farirai works in research and advocacy on sexual and reproductive health rights, with a focus on Child Marriage. Her most notable accomplishments are contributing to 3 peer-reviewed academic papers, working with traditional leaders to change social norms and develop bylaws on child protection as well as co-founding Girls & Goals, a collective which uses sports arts and culture for advocacy. She is currently working on a multi-year study with the University College of London (UCL) which looks at the long-term mental health
effects of child marriage.