By Best Ndlovu
I never thought one day I would give a positive testimony about myself and family. The whole community knew that our household was the poorest of the poor. I know what it is like to move from one house to another begging for basic commodities just to pull through to the next day.
As if that was not enough, my father passed away leaving us worse off! My mother could not make ends meet and getting a decent meal was a nightmare for me and my two sisters. Many times we would go to bed on empty stomachs. We dropped out from school because my mother owed the school a lot of money and could not buy school uniforms and other requirements. In the midst of trying to come to terms with not going to school, my mother who was ill, got worse and died in 2002 of an HIV and AIDS related illnesses.
Our parents had left us with no money as they had spent their meagre savings on medication. Life became so harsh to us and my elder sister began to live a reckless life engaging in prostitution just to survive. She contracted HIV and died shortly leaving behind a three year old son. I did not know how to fend for the family but I was now the head of the family being the eldest child. Shortly afterwards, my younger sister fell pregnant and to compound matters, the man responsible fled to South Africa leaving my sister desperate.
At the age of 15 I got married to the man I who would provide food on the table for my family.
The man was older than me by 22 years and I didn’t even mind that he was older than me and in fact, almost as old as my father had been. What I only wanted was for my siblings to live a better life even if it meant sacrificing my life to this old man.
In the first years of my marriage things were not easy for me as I was very childish and not yet mature enough to handle marriage life. I remember I used to play games outside the yard with other children as I was still trying to relate to my age mates who were still enjoying childhood.
This led my husband to engage into extra marital sex with other women as I was not giving him my attention. He used to torture and beat me with a knob berry when I confronted him about his marital affairs. It was too much for me to stand for his abuse but moving out was my last option because I had no way of fending for my siblings when If moved out. Being childish in my marriage to me was not an issue, what I only wanted was to be supported together with my young siblings.
I married this man for what I thought were the right reasons or maybe for what some may call the greater good which was to fend for my young siblings but little did I know of HIV and AIDS and that I was going to be infected by my husband. I accepted my status but it was not easy for me to live with the virus as I kept thinking that if it was not my parent’s death I could have been living a better life. I always wished to finish my secondary school but the only thing that I passed was early marriage that was caused by poverty that was at our home.
At the age of 21 I had three children and an extended family that I still wished to improve their quality of life.I’ve always thought that if it wasn’t for the fact that I was a victim of child marriage I would have made a difference in my family and my community.
Now I’m happy that my family is improving though provisions from my marriage but I’m still living a lie. I married for the wrong reasons, I do not love the man I’m married to and am physically abused on a daily basis. I have begun to accept it that I’m now living with the virus and must not be negative about being positive. I will not abandon my family until they are able to fend and take care of themselves in a positive manner.
There are other orphans and other vulnerable children in the same situation like me. I just want to encourage them to be strong, do not give up on your life thinking that marriage and engaging into prostitution can solve your problems. It is better to beg from your neighbors and community members than be infected with HIV at an early age and also deprived of child rights through early marriage.I always wish that if there were clear national policies to deal with the plight of children in adverse situations our lives would have been better.
This year’s theme on 16 days of activism against gender based violence is particularly significant to me because of its emphasis on educating the girl child to improve their quality of life. I believe that the first step towards empowering women and reducing violence is in making sure that all girls are educated.
An educated girl will more likely be aware of her rights and be able to stand up for herself against any forms of abuse.