NEARLY 5 000 teenage girls got pregnant while close to 2 000 were married off in the first two months of the year, in what experts believe was a result of idleness and school closures caused by the Covid-19 lockdown.
The Government imposed a Level Four lockdown at the beginning of the year resulting in the postponement of school opening. According to a report by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development which was presented in Parliament last week, the country recorded 4 959 cases of teenage pregnancies and 1 774 child marriages in January and February alone. The report also showed that 900 girls below the age of 17 were raped in October and November last year, indicating an average of 15 girls being raped per day.
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Some of the rape cases were of girls below the age of seven.
Mashonaland Central tops the numbers with 4 475 teenage pregnancies and 1 436 child marriages while Matabeleland South is second with 290 teenage pregnancies and 65 child marriages. Harare did not record any teenage pregnancy nor child marriage while Bulawayo had only one teenage pregnancy case and zero child marriages.
Matabeleland North recorded 74 child marriages and no teenage pregnancies. Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister Dr Sithembiso Nyoni who presented the report said close male family members were identified as perpetrators of rape and other forms of child abuse.
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She said it was clear that rural areas have issues around teenagers who are exposed to sex before the age of consent. Dr Nyoni said staying at home and being idle also contributed to the minors getting pregnant.
“We acknowledge that this is a time of great anxiety, uncertainty and stress for many as normal life routines are changed. W
omen and girls who constitute the greater percentage of gender-based violence survivors find themselves trapped in homes with abusive husbands, fathers, brothers and family members with limited access to protection and support services. With the report, we have indeed witnessed unprecedented incidents of rape during this period.”
On rape cases of underaged girls, the report showed that the Victim Friendly Unit of the Zimbabwe Republic Police received 1 222 cases of rape in the third quarter of 2020 and in the fourth quarter they received 1 274 cases countrywide. A total of 134 girls between the age of zero and seven years were raped in the fourth quarter, 239 girls between eight years and 12 years, 292 girls between 13 and 15 years and 235 girls between 16 and 17 years.
Educationists, experts in adolescent sexual reproduction and parents said there was need for an urgent intervention by the Government and local communities. National Association of Secondary Headmasters president Mr Arthur Maphosa said the solution lies in the opening of schools as most teenage girls were being exposed to abusers while at home.
“The number of teenagers falling pregnant is not only disturbing but detrimental to efforts made by the Government and its partners to protect and empower the girl child. Children have to be in school but that was not possible for a long time due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown that forced the closure of schools. Our young girls were exposed to the vagaries of society, made to engage in sex, forcibly in most cases.
“Parents no longer give strict supervision as they heavily rely on the school teacher to do the work. Hopefully as the Government finds a solution with communities, we hope to heal and mend the disaster through intense educational programmes.
We as educators cannot sit and leave the rot to spoil our children’s future. Men as fathers, brother and community leaders have to own up and stop this inhumane behaviour of raping our kids, marrying them off for money and status. It is disgusting.”
In a statement to Sunday News, the Farming Community Education Trust (FACET), said apart from rape, other drivers of teenage pregnancies were lack of appreciation of the value of keeping girls in school, poverty at family and community level.
“Most parents in these communities do not value education. The main reason being poverty because they cannot afford school fees and other requirements needed to send their children to school. Because of this, most girls then opt for marriage to escape poverty at home. Some are forced into these marriages by their parents so they can get a dollar from the arrangement. The trouble is that this becomes a cycle of poverty.”
The organisation said the solution was for communities to educate young girls and boys on the dangers of sex. Traditional leaders were identified as strategic in keeping the community in check.
Zimbabwe Council of Churches president Bishop Lazarus Khanye said in most cases, although not related to specific areas, the surge in teenage pregnancies was as a result of exploitation by those who have resources.
This year the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education committed to spend $123 million that will help pregnant girls to continue with their education. This is in line with the amended Education Act which now allows girls to attend school during and after the pregnancy.-SUNDAYNEWS