Having finished Grade 7 at the age of 16, young lady Bridget (not her real name) is not only married and living in one of the oldest slums of Bulawayo city but she is also the mother to a one-month old baby girl. Bridget grew up under her grandparents’ care in Cowdray Park and had been living with them ever since her father passed on when she was a little girl and her mother disappeared into thin air after the funeral. A couple of years later, her grandfather passed on, leaving her grandmother as her only legal guardian. She started her Grade One schooling at the age of 7 and had to repeat because of arrears in fees. This led her to complete her grade 7 at the age of 16.
Bridget fell pregnant by her boyfriend from Ngozi mine and was ousted by her grandmother so she could go and live with the father of the child. She now resides in Ngozi mine, the city dumping site of Bulawayo which has a community that has been growing since 1994. She has been living there for the past month and says she has no problem with the people living there. Her problem however lies in the poverty-stricken living conditions that she now has to adjust to and the physical abuse from her ‘husband’. She has had excruciating stomach pains due to the food they consume which she described as mostly expired canned food that they scavenge from the enormous rubbish pit.
With five people living in the household, the “husband” does not hesitate humiliating and getting physical with her in their presence and the family does not intervene. She says that he is an alcoholic and whenever he drinks there is trouble in paradise. The tales are the same for her and her mother in law as she also goes through the same bad omen from her husband especially when he is highly intoxicated. Despite living there for only a month, Bridget says that her husband has hit her twice and that has left her body bruised and suffering from acute headaches and migraines. This union is sugar coated as ‘marriage’ but is just a case of circumstantial cohabitation as Bridget’s traditional family refuses to take her back unless and until her husband appeases them for the damages. She has had to endure the bad treatment from her husband because of the inability to leave him though she wishes that were possible. As far as reporting him to the police, she says that the thought has come across her mind but she is reluctant because the Luveve police station is too far from Ngozi considering that she has a small baby and her bruised body to carry her to the station.
Her story is not unique though, many young women her age in this community are “married” with children at tender ages of 15. Teenage motherhood and marriages are a norm here. Reasons vary from peer pressure, being kicked out of home after falling pregnant, wanting protection and financial support from the ‘husbands’. Most are also not spared from the harsh living conditions characterised by informal settlements, gender based violence too.
Bridget does wish she could rewrite her story by continuing with further education as she initially had the dream of becoming a nurse. She is willing to go back to school and change her life for the better. With a hurricane of events having happened to her in just a month, we continue to fear how far the husband will go and how that will continue to emotionally and mentally damage Bridget.