Seeking Justice as Therapy
Growing up, I admired the uniforms that female police officers wore, especially the blue shirts and skirts with a baretta and a big belly belt. All that roses is not gold my mother always told me, and I got to realise there is a lot of laws and policies that make that uniform beautiful and that is if those written instruments finally work particularly when you are in need of them.
In an article I read on the significance of justice in psychotherapeutic treatment, the author mentioned that a lack of social justice and continuing injustice in post conflict areas prevent survivors from processing their traumatic experiences and consequently the individual, family or community are changed in a lasting way . The article further says that the trauma can be passed on to generations. The reader of this article may wonder how this reference is relevant to the issue of child marriage and violence against women and girls as this was written in the context of war and crisis. Well I will say child marriage is a trauma that can be compared to war as this is violence of all forms: sexual, near death (almost kind of gun threatened - which by the way may have not been recorded but has occurred before), physical, emotional, social and economic violence, so it is up to the reader to decide whether child marriage is any different from being in a war.
When I finally realised what child marriage is I realised that there is need for justice to maybe find healing, yes ‘maybe” meaning to some extent. Indulge me and I will explain later in this article why to some extent. As a child marriage survivor myself, I got to blame the justice system for not fully protecting me and the many girls, and now women, who have experienced child marriage. Of course, one might ask me why not blame myself? Well I did, but my government also had gaps and still has gaps in protecting the girl child from such violation. One thing for sure, I sought for justice and a change in laws in Zimbabwe by challenging the government to raise the age of marriage for girls to 18 in the Mudzuru Ministry of Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs ( CCZ 2015- 12) case, and addressed the customary discrepancies that allowed girls to be married with the consent of parents and guardians.
I was happy with the constitutional ruling in 2016. I thought finally, I will see no other girl experiencing the trauma that I live with today. In 2022, when the marriage act was established, I was also thrilled. Thrilled that there will be criminalization of perpetrators and the nation (citizens, civil society, government departments, parliament, the president and traditional leaders etc) will work together to protect the girl child.
Justice becomes therapy when one finally sees the enforcement of the law and the uniforms I mentioned being won by officers that are motivated to use the written instruments. Justice becomes therapy when there is infrastructure that responds to the situation like one stop centres that recognize child marriage as a gender based violence case, emergency shelters, economic empowerment that sees to it that a woman has the tools and resources on top of the skill to be independent and sustainable. Infrastructure that recognizes that psychological support is vital and should be offered free of charge, infrastructure that supports the girls and their children to get education, infrastructure that allows for girls and boys to access SRHR services and information without discrimination. I mentioned that the trauma can affect generations and hence there is a need to respond to the families and communities that the survivors live in.
I mentioned that to some extent seeking justice is therapy, bringing in mind the journey it took me to realize that the justice was in place and not for me only but for other girls and the next generations. It took 6 years until the constitutional ruling made in 2016 that ruled that 18 years was now the age of marriage and finally implemented child marriage as a criminal law in 2022. Six years is the amount of time it takes a 5-year-old girl to grow and develop and get married with understanding that over these years we read of the horror of 9-year-olds being married and giving birth. The question is, how many girls, who were supposed to be protected by the law got violated in the 6 years it took to enact a law?
We advocated for prioritization of education for survivors and the re-entry policy was put in place. The country has a re-entry policy that should enable survivors to be in school but there are so many social norms and behaviours of schools, other students and community members that prevent girls from exercising their right to go back to school. We advocated for sexual reproductive health rights and services and inclusion of SRHR in the school curriculum, lobbied for a change in law of the age of sexual consent in the Kawenda and Mudzuru CCZ 3/22 case in the constitutional court, on the 24th of May 2022. The Constitutional Court which declared that provisions of the Criminal Law Code governing the age at which children can consent to sexual intercourse was unconstitutional. All these points are the justice that sometimes brings peace in my sleep before I start thinking………IS SEEKING JUSTICE THERAPY?
Loveness Mudzuru is a social worker, founder of Passionate Circles Trust and also holds the position of Research and Advocacy Associate at Rozaria Memorial Trust (RMT). She has experience in social protection and case management. She has succeeded in law reform while addressing child marriage, through winning a case in the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe in 2016, when she was 20 years old. As a result of Loveness' efforts, the judge declared the age of 18 as the legal minimum age of marriage and that all forms of child marriage were with immediate effect deemed unconstitutional. She has also contributed to outstanding efforts in SRHRS through a notable challenge to the Constitutional court of Zimbabwe again with the increase of age of sexual consent to 18.