Girl child: Is it a case of mother’s love or abuse

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By Farayi Mungoshi

“OH, here we go again,” remarked a would-be film funder the other day after I’d told him that apart from writing I am currently directing a film based on abuse of the girl child.
“I know,” I said to myself, it sounds like an exhausted topic, one that lots of people have used in recent years to get funding as most non-governmental organisations (NGOs) prefer funding such topics, especially where books, radio programmes, film and television programmes are concerned and also workshops informing people on the subject.
I, for one would agree that it does sound like a song pressed on repeat, but that was until I was asked to adapt the novel Makunun’unu Maodzamwoyo for film.
This was the beginning of a great lesson concerning the girl child, not that I have met a lot of abused girls, but simply because I got to talk a lot about the topic as I related the story on how the girl in the book is abused by her mother.
There goes that word again, ‘abuse’ – I am left wondering if it is actually abuse or just the clock turning on age old beliefs and culture, but for you to understand where I am coming from you need to first, at least get a glimpse of the story.
The story is about a girl who falls in love with a young man, but her mother wants her to get married to a man nearly three times her age instead, simply because he had made a deal with the mother that if he provides school fees for the girl and makes sure that she has food and is well taken care of.
When the time comes the mother would have to give her daughter’s hand in marriage to the old man.
When the girl refuses to marry the old man, it triggers a whole lot of mishaps within the family which leads to death and despair.
It’s almost five years now since I began working on this story and whenever I’m asked what it is about, I reply it’s a story about how a young girl is abused by her mother.
It is only recently that I got a shocker when a colleague of mine working on the same story related his experience to students in Chihota about the book.
He said, “After we had all agreed that the girl’s mother was cruel and selfish a young girl in Form Three lifted her hand and said, had the girl agreed to everything her mother had told her to do, she would have lived a happy life with that old man as he was able to provide for her since he was considered rich.”
In other words, the girl saw nothing wrong with the mother and everything wrong with the girl for refusing to listen to her mother.
I marvelled at this because I had never looked at it like that, that this mother genuinely loved her daughter and wanted the best for her and the only way she knew how, was to make sure that she gets married to a rich man.
I immediately embarked on a mission to find out why this young school girl saw nothing wrong with the mother’s intention to marry off her daughter to a man three times her age.
I concluded that she was either very intelligent or poverty had hit her family to such an extent that she understood the parents’ woes and would do anything to ease the burden from them.
Or is it in our culture to agree to anything and everything our parents say even when it goes against our wishes for fear of upsetting them?
Most of us would do anything to avoid upsetting our parents as we fear that bad-luck would follow us everywhere?
“Unoita munyama,” they say.
Despite the fact that the book was written in 1970, I discovered that the issue it was addressing is still relevant today.
The difference with today is that we all turn our heads aside when a young cousin brings an old man as her date to a family gathering or party, but we still accept the groceries he brings, telling stories over a drink.
Nobody talks about the fact that this old man already has a wife and children older than your cousin.
“At this rate, I don’t mind if I became the third wife,” a close cousin once said.
I could not argue with her because she was already unemployed and she could not see her future despite the fact that she already had a child at such a tender age.
I guess I felt bad because I am one of many who had advised her to leave her abusive husband, but now that she was all alone and broke I found myself wondering and questioning myself if I had advised her well.
In that abusive relationship, she never went to sleep on an empty stomach?
Whichever way I looked at it, everything kept coming back to the same issue, the issue of lack.
As much as I hate to admit it, we have now reached a stage where even our society has become tolerant to prostitution, simply because people have to eat.
Subconsciously we are being moulded into a new age culture that allows anything to be done for a dollar and because it gives you money, it is justified.
It is time we open our eyes as to how we got to this stage.
Zimbabwe was not always like this, but the warfare declared on our economy has left most with wounds even though we cannot see them.
The sooner we pick up arms and redirect our hands from handouts or using our bodies to working the land, the sooner we can redeem ourselves.
Poverty is a mindset, and so is prosperity, it has nothing to do with what you have in your pocket, but rather on what you can achieve because of your talent or gift and setting out to achieve that.

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