Lockdown spikes Zim’s child marriages as hunger bites

By Nhau Mangirazi

As Zimbabwe Government ponders on its next decision regarding the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown decree, child right advocates are riled that girl child has been exposed to more danger due food insecurity in both rural and urban households.

Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) Chairperson, Margaret Mukahanana Sangarwe noted that while online education, as an alternative during lockdown increases the gap among those with and without access to the required technology leaving others, mainly from poor and rural communities, behind.

She is however concerned that spending more time online also exposes children to cyber bulling, sex-predators, pornographic material and all other online vices.

Her statement marking one month after lockdown was introduced reveal that there are reports showing that out of school students, particularly girls, are in a more precarious situation.

‘The girls risk falling pregnant and drop out of school indefinitely,’ says Sangarwe.

Last week, Chikangwe High School science  Upper Sixth student Melisa Denhere appealed to Government to help out the girl child during the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown.

She presented a paper during the visit by primary and secondary minister Ambassador  Cain Mathema launching the Schools Responsive program in Karoi.

Denhere said, ‘COVID- 19 impact is being felt in all spheres of life particularly social and economic. Like many other countries, Zimbabwe imposed a lockdown. However, the pandemic has greatly affected the education sector where children suffer from waves of abuse. COVID- 19 has disrupted households and stressed caregivers. Not forgetting the girl child where cases of child marriages are likely to rise.’

She noted that desperate families facing hardships will have no choice but ‘marry off their daughters’ to limit household feeding.

Katswe Sistahood director, Talent Jumo concurred that family income has been eroded by the lockdown coupled with the sudden hike of basic commodities.

Jumo said, ‘‘In the ghetto, some adolescent girls are being forced to hustle for money to feed the family and when she falls pregnant there is no choice but child marriage. Poverty in its various angles fueled by food insecurity is the major push factor where girl child is sacrificed to feed families as part of lobola. The girl child rights are at stake,’

Louis Tatswareyi research, communication and advocacy officer at Shamwari Yemwanasikana, a girl rights group operating in Mashonaland East province concurred that poverty is forcing many girls into child marriages as hunger hovers over Zimbabwe communities.

He said, ‘Currently, food insecurity in some rural areas is fueling early child marriages where girl rights are violated as victims suffer in silence due to incapacitation of stakeholders including police that are monitoring lockdown violations,’

He said although they are offering food assistance, full girls protection and support services to ensure that girls are safe remains a ‘national challenge’

Denhere added, ‘‘The widespread closure of schools may increase the risk of child marriages.’

Sangarwe noted that prolonged periods outside school are a threat to the envisaged outcomes of that calendar year for schools.

She however, appealed for corrective measures to enhance respective social protection systems.

‘These can be done through robust safety nets, with a deliberate emphasis on giving preference to the vulnerable members of the society, which includes women, children, elderly and persons with disabilities, among other groups,’ said Sangarwe.

Mashonaland Central province tops child marriages at 50 percent followed by Mashonaland West (42 percent) Masvingo (39 percent) while Mashonaland East is pegged at fourth position on 36 percent.