17-year-old Natsiraishe Maritsa from Zimbabwe is using taekwondo to give girls in her community a fighting chance at life.
Child marriage is a widespread problem in many countries in East and Southern Africa because it is considered to be a violation of girls’ human rights, it subjects girls to sexual violence, risky pregnancies, and exposure to illnesses.
Maritsa been a martial arts fan since the age of 5 and believes that learning taekwondo gives girls in her community a fighting chance at life.“Not many people do taekwondo here, so it’s fascinating for the girls, both married and single. I use it to get their attention,” she said. Maritsa teaches children as young as four, as well as some of her former schoolmates who are now married.
According to The Associated Press girls in Zimbabwe as young as 10 are forced to marry due to poverty or traditional and religious practices. “1/2 In Zimbabwe, 34 per cent of women are married by age 18, and 4 per cent are married by age 15. Child marriage predominantly affects girls in the poorest wealth quintiles in rural areas,” tweeted Maritsa.
The sessions take place outside her parents’ home in the Epworth settlement, about 15 kilometres southeast of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. After each taekwondo session, the girls talk about the dangers of child marriage. They discuss how their marriages have turned into bondage, including verbal and physical abuse, marital rape and pregnancy-related health complications.
Through these classes, conducted under the auspices of an association called Vulnerable Underaged People’s Auditorium, Maritsa hopes to boost the confidence of both married and single girls. During the sessions, she discourages those who are not yet married against early sexual activity and marriage. The trick is for them to find ways of occupying themselves productively.
“The bigger plan is to keep young girls occupied & stay away from sexual activities. It is imperative to understand that young people are idle they have nothing to do. Sexual activities & drug abuse becomes the order of the day. By training taekwondo we keep the girls occupied,” said Maritsa in another tweet.