By Nhau Mangirazi
Fourteen-year-old Tendai Marenga who was in Form One dropped out from a resettlement school near Tengwe farming community after she eloped to be a house wife late last year. Marita Tarembera aged 15 from Zvimonja under Chief Mudzimu, 85 kilometres out of Karoi town, is now a mother of a six-month-old daughter after dropping out of school. She was married off by her guardians who did not have enough maize to last them till next farming season.
These scenarios aptly explain the gloomy reality gripping Hurungwe, one of the districts facing the highest school dropouts.
Tendai and Marita’s stories are a sad oracle of social and economic ills affecting rural outskirts. Poverty is a driving force to many of the child marriages according to villagers here. According to the district statistics recorded in 2013, a total of 8 438 pupils completed Grade Seven of which 4 223 of them were girls.
Of these girls, only 3 143 proceeded to Form One, signifying a 26 percent drop out. An additional 35 percent drop out was also recorded in girls dropping out of school before completing Form Four in the same year, according to district statistics. Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), an independent body, reveals that poverty, traditional beliefs and teenage sex are major reasons for early child marriages in the country.
According to findings in the report “Married too soon in Zimbabwe”, the above factors fuel high school drop outs in mostly rural set ups in the country. “It is normal for a 14-year-old girl to be married and drop out of school. Some parents take marriage as a mitigation factor for failure to pay school fees due to economic challenges. This impacts negatively on the education sector,” admits Richard Mangwaira, headman of Chivakanenyama village, 45 kilometres west of Karoi town. Mangwaira says, traditionally, they cannot overlook parental approval of such cases.
“Culturally, parents have the overall control over their children and we cannot impose laws to bar them from accepting lobola,” adds headman Mangwaira. Although there are laws in Zimbabwe protecting children in general, there are, however, loopholes that make it difficult to curb child marriages as they protect girl children only on paper.
For example, the Children and Protection and Adoption Act defines a child as anyone below the age of 18 while the Constitution grants marriage to someone who is 18 years old and above. Ironically, the Marriage Act chapter 5.11 sets marriageable age at 18 for boys and 16 for girls. Hurungwe is among the four areas where child marriages are rampant. The other three being Chiredzi, Binga and Muzarabani.
Statistics show that 65 percent of rural girls are married or impregnated by the age of 19.Mashonaland Central tops the list with 50 percent of its population getting pregnant at an early age while Mashonaland West is pegged second with 42 percent.
Campaign for Female Education, Camfed established by American scholar Ann Cotton in 1993 is emerging as a source of hope to ensure rural girls in Mola, Kariba district, who would otherwise drop out because of poverty, continue with schooling. Camfed is currently supporting 35 000 girls in Zimbabwe’s 28 districts, of which 32 of them are from Hurungwe.
Camfed also assists pupils in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe paying school fees, uniforms and other needs.
Camfed regional director, Angeline Murimirwa, a beneficiary of the programme, admits that incidences of girls dropping out of school were a great challenge. “It is unfortunate that some perpetrators are girls’ guardians including teachers and male relatives at times. Hatidi makudo anodya munda takatarisa (we will not tolerate sexual abuse on the girl child,” says Murimirwa, adding, “Naturally girls face sexual abuse”
Some teachers and parents blame government for marginalising Hurungwe, an agricultural district in the country.“Drop outs are a menace as this will reverse gains invested in the education sector,” bitter Collin Magara under Chief Kazangarare about 60 kilometres north of Karoi town says.
The RAU report adds that early marriages are detrimental to health and the wellbeing of the girl child.“Child marriages can also result in bonded labour or enslavement, commercial sexual exploitation and violence against the victims. Because they cannot abstain from sex or insist on condom use, child brides are often exposed to such serious health risks as premature pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and, increasingly, HIV/AIDS,” reads the report in part.
Names changed to protect minors’ identities