Hope, healing & dignity restored for child marriage survivor

23 May 2017
Fistula survivors sit outside their ward at UNFPA's obstetric fistula repair camp at Chinhoyi Provincial Hospital © UNFPA Zimbabwe/Victoria Walshe

Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, 23 May, 2017 – Nyasha  Musandu (15 – name changed to protect identity) was just 12 years old when she was forced into child marriage. At 13 she fell pregnant, suffering a still birth and double obstetric fistula; a debilitating condition caused by a gruelling four day labour rendering her completely incontinent. Although scarred from the trauma of child marriage and teenage pregnancy, Nyasha’s hope has been restored and she has begun healing after receiving free fistula repair surgery under UNFPA’s Campaign to End Fistula.

Today, as we commemorate International Day to End Fistula under the theme “Hope, healing and dignity for all”, UNFPA aims to put an end to this neglected health condition that affects an estimated 2 million women in the developing world. Obstetric fistula occurs mostly among women and girls living in extreme poverty, such as Nyasha whose parents died when she was very young. She was only 12 years old when her sister sold her into a child marriage to a much older man. “She owed him $20 and she could not pay so he took me as his wife.”

One year later, at the age of 13, Nyasha fell pregnant and her husband threw her out. She was sent to live with her blind grandmother in Chimanimani in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands, Manicaland Province. During a gruelling four day labour at her grandmother’s rural homestead, Nyasha suffered a still birth and developed fistula. “The child was dead, I was leaking urine and feces all the time and no one wanted me anymore,” said Nyasha.

The child was dead, I was leaking urine and feces all the time and no one wanted me anymore”

This birth injury is more likely to afflict girls like Nyasha who become pregnant while still physically immature, as their underdeveloped bodies are unable to cope with the trauma of labour. Women and girls with fistula are often unable to participate in society, ostracized by their families and communities driving them further into poverty.

However, Nyasha has avoided this lifelong plight receiving free fistula repair surgery after Child Line Zimbabwe connected her to Women and Health Alliance International (WAHA), UNFPA’s technical partner in the Campaign to End Fistula which has repaired over 300 women to date through five repair camps at Chinhoyi Provincial Hospital under the Health Development Fund, supported by the governments of Britain, Ireland, Sweden and the European Union.

Nyasha was scheduled to receive two fistula repair surgeries as she had both Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF) and Rectovaginal Fistula (RVF), the first of which she received in July 2016, returning again in January 2017 for her second and final surgery.

“I was scared for anyone to touch or examine me but the doctors and staff were all so kind and patient with me.”

Nyasha is now safe in the protetion of Child Line Zimbabwe who have placed her with a foster family. She is healing and has high hopes of returning to school. “I am now fully recovered and I wish to go back and finish to school if I can get enough help.”

 By Victoria Walshe (with reporting by WAHA)