By Perseverance Javangwe
The Covid-19 has brought wide ranging ramifications on society worsening the plight of vulnerable groups in society including young women with reports indicating that six junior councilors under Zibagwe Rural District Council falling pregnant.
Poverty has worsened in communities, due to the economic shutdown during the pandemic. Climate change on the other hand is hitting the country hard resulting in many cases of drought in the rural areas. Economic stagnation, an increase in inflation, the ballooning of prices of basic commodities have worsened the plight of many with those in the rural areas struggling to make ends meet.
Six junior councilors from the Zibagwe Rural District Council in Kwekwe are among a number of teenage girls who were victims of early child marriages after falling pregnant during the Covid-19 induced nationwide lockdown, this publication can reveal.
An official from Plan International who pleaded for anonymity said that, “…it’s true we got the information a couple of months ago and tried to follow up but it’s unfortunate that the girls were not forthcoming.”
This comes after the United Nations report released earlier this year claimed that the coronavirus lockdowns would lead to an extra 13million child marriages over the next decade.
Speaking in an interview with reporter, Junior
Brigadier General Dylan Chiponda who is the outgoing Junior Chief Justice, former Junior Mayor for Kwekwe, and advocate for the rights of girls and women said that the problem emanates from poor advocacy. He also stated that some of the people who are supposed to be fighting to end the scourge against child marriages are the ones who are actually fueling it.
“The thing is we are paying attention to petty issues leaving the real issues. If we have proper workshops for all of us we would not have this flabbergasting and horrendous incidents happening to our girls. We are paying more attention to the urban members only and leaving out those in RDC (Rural District Council). You attend a meeting where these child leaders aren’t there from RDC and then call it advocacy.
“Also; you see some people in the meetings who speak against violating girls, but are the ones who violate them and such issues are kept silent because of their political status. We need to teach, teach, and teach and never get tired of efficient and accountable child advocacy. I believe we can end this scourge emerging in Kwekwe district if we do things in a proper way, proper child advocacy,” said Chiponda.
The extended school holidays due to the coronavirus pandemic exposed many girls to abuse as they faced difficulties to access reproductive health services, potentially contributing to a surge in teenage pregnancies.
African Union Goodwill Ambassodor and Rozaria Memorial Trust Founder and Chief Executive, Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda speaking during a virtual workshop attributed most child abuse to the extended holidays and fragile livelihoods.
“In our analysis for Zimbabwe drawing from our WCOZ (Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe) frontline responders group and the Child Rights Coalition, we do not have sufficient services to manage child marriage during the covid-19 pandemic. Following are some of the reasons: 1)education is prevention and schools are closed. Many girls are at higher risk, 2)economic empowerment and secure livelihoods are prevention. Now with the lockdown and fragile livelihoods base due to drought and climate impacts; the girls are vulnerable, to that end they are lured nemari yefodya from makorokoza (lured by gold panners), 3)Hospitals and health centers reduced services to mostly essential services and young people could not easily be prioritised for SRHR, 4)DSW was overwhelmed,” said Gumbonzvanda.
Centre for Women Against Abuse (CWAA), an organisation that works with women and girls, was quoted in a local paper as having said that the Covid-19 pandemic had created unbearable challenges, for women and girls.
“Many young girls, including those with physical disabilities face significant risks due to coronavirus-induced restrictions. Staying at home comes with financial pressures, disconnection from support networks and heightened stress have exacerbated the underlying conditions that lead to the escalation of early and forced child marriages,” said CWAA Director Muchadzireva Burukai.
This comes despite Zimbabwe’s constitution outlawing child marriages and striking down Section 22(1) of the Marriage Act in 2016.
Speaking during a virtual meeting hosted by Social Workers, Maxim Murungweni a social worker specializing on child rights governance, research and reporting to Human Rights Treaty bodies, and is also the Child Rights Advisor for Shamwari Yemwanasikana stated that the covid-19 pandemic through national lockdowns has exacerbated the rise of child sexual exploitation.
“Sexual exploitation of the girl child has been happening in Zimbabwe and across the world even before the outbreak of Covid-19. But due to Covid-19 the problem of sexual exploitation has increased mainly because of the effects of the lockdown restrictions on family income. Poverty has increased since industries have closed as well as the informal market from which the majority of families rely on. So this has made the girl child more vulnerable and end up being sexually exploited in exchange for money, food and other material things.
“Unfortunately because of the negative effects of Covid-19 on the economy we will continue to see an increase in such cases since this is seen as a copying mechanism by families for them to use the girl child to get something to put food on the table,” he said.
This is despite the fact that Section 87 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act penalises adults who expose children to prostitution and related activities. Parents and guardians are prohibited from letting their children associate with prostitution.
A United Nations Children’s Fund report and Save the Children, say the economic impact of covid-19 could push up to 86million more children into poverty by the end of 2020.
Child rights experts and activists say the Covid-19 pandemic could reverse some of the gains made in keeping girls in school and ensuring they are protected from social vices such as child marriages. The Zimbabwe government closed schools in March this year as part of measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus which began in China in December 2019.