While some girls were busy with their studies, 15-year-old Chipo (not real name), was already being mentored on how to become a perfect wife.
BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA
A school dropout, who immediately fell into the clutches of child marriage, Chipo dumped her hopes of becoming a doctor and started concentrating on the arranged marriage for which she was not prepared psychologically and physically for because of her age.
Hardly a year into the marriage, it failed to work, and she was back at her parents’ home, pregnant.
Three years later, Chipo — now a mother — was fortunate to join other school dropouts in a programme being undertaken by the Real Open Opportunities for Transformation Support (Roots), a non-governmental organisation working in Mashonaland Central province.
The programme, named Dreams with the view to help girls aged between 15 and 24 to develop into determined, resilient, empowered, Aids-free, mentored, and safe women (Dreams), is being implemented in 10 sub-Saharan African countries, including Zimbabwe.
As part of the project in Zimbabwe, Roots, in partnership with SafAids is implementing the programme in Mashonaland Central province, where, according to a 2015 Unicef State of the World report, half of all child marriages recorded in Zimbabwe this year are from that region.
Unicef also estimates that one in every nine girls in Zimbabwe entered into marriage before the age of 15.
Failure to pay school fees, unplanned pregnancies and child marriages have been cited as some of the major causes of school dropouts, chiefly in rural areas, where, according to some studies, the education of girls is not prioritised.
According to the Zimbabwe Core USAid Education Profile, “in urban areas, 60% of children of secondary school age attend school, compared to 39% in rural areas” and the Research and Advocacy Unit, in a research titled Married too soon in Zimbabwe, found that poverty, traditional beliefs and teenage sex are major reasons for early child marriages in the country, mostly rural set ups in the country.
Roots programmes officer, Nyasha Mantosi, said girls forced into early marriages were also at risk of HIV infections.
“We identified these girls and recruited them into our clubs where they are educated on HIV and Aids-related issues. We also refer them to other organisations where they are offered education, pyscho-social support and self-sustenance projects,” she said.
So far, more than 100 girls have been introduced into the project, which started this year.
One of the beneficiaries, Keisha Murinzi, a 23-year-old mother of twins, said the project is giving her a second chance in life.
“Going back to school will help me as I will be able to study further, maybe get a job so that I can take care of my children,” she said.
Another beneficiary, 18-year old Sinoletta Kawara, who dropped out of school, but is back through the Dreams project, said, “being taught about HIV and Aids, at the same time getting a chance to go back to school is helping me refocus my life and this also means I will not marry early, as I will have to focus on education.”