Reality on the Ground
“More than 62% of teenage girls aged 8 to 18 years are at risk of Child, early and forced marriage and unions (CEFMU) and sexual exploitation in marginalized communities in Zimbabwe”
In Murehwa ward 27, from June to December 2018, 13 girls were sexually abused, and over 20 teenage girls were forced into early childhood marriage. This statistics was collected from the survey carried out by Waruka Trust Academy, However the statistics are higher than noted. This occurs in and around Zimbabwean rural communities, made worse by patriarchy, traditional and religious practices. Zimbabwe also has a high scourge of HIV/AIDS. According to the National HIV Survey (ZIMPHIA 2020), the rate of annual new HIV infections among adults in Zimbabwe is 0.38 percent (0.54 percent among women and 0.20 percent among men) or approximately 31,000 persons over a year. The pandemic has orphaned most of the girls, most of them ending up becoming victims of CEFMU, which in most cases results in them falling victim to HIV/AIDS infection as well. Growing up without biological families, often living under the care of guardians who do not offer them adequate care and support. Their reality leaves them vulnerable and unable to integrate in society after facing traumatic events. This adding to high numbers of girls dropping out of school prematurely, attempting and committing suicide.
Life of the Girl Child in Rural Zimbabwe
According to UNICEF – United Nations Children’s Fund, 1 in 3 girls are married before reaching 18 years, and 34% before 15. Cultural values in patriarchal societies have resulted in sharp gender inequalities, disadvantaging women and girls. The dominating religious sect in the area is known for child marriage practice which often goes unchallenged. In addition poverty adds to the growth in the problem as impoverished families see the girl child as a means of earning wealth for the family through payment of bride price. This is common in rural, farming and mining communities where educational, social and economic prospects for girls are limited.
As a result of the above, teen pregnancies result in obstetrics and gynaecological complications or death. Polygamous relationships and promiscuity in religions that do not believe in use of contraception increase the rate of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), HIV/AIDS and deaths due to lack of proper health care.
In addition low self esteem, isolation, depression, suicide and murder prompted from gender based violence, become the end for most victims. Now Covid-19 and lockdown has taken a huge knock on the girls‘ lives because most of them ended up becoming victims of sexual abuse, with nowhere to go and report. From January to March 2021 alone, nationally more than 5000 school going age girls got pregnant and a number of them were missing when schools opened and are believed to have been married off.
Rural girls and young women are deprived of enjoying their human rights and there calls a need for urgent intervention.