Poverty spurs early child marriages, school dropouts

BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA/KENNETH NYANGANI

ZIMBABWE has regressed in girl child enrolment at schools due to the scourge of early child marriages and poverty, legal think-tank Veritas has said.

In a statement to mark commemorations of the International Day of the Girl Child which was observed last week, Veritas and a non-profit organisation called Borgen Project expressed concern over parents in rural areas who prefer to send boys to schools disadvantaging girls, resulting in a drop in girls’ enrolment at schools.

The two organisations cited an increase in rural poverty as the cause for opting to educate boy children over girls.

“According to Unicef data and Girls Not Brides data, 32% of girls in Zimbabwe are married before the age of 18 and 4% are married before the age of 15, and the story of the girl child’s success is cut short by such practices,” the statement read.

“Both the Relief Web and ZimStats, state that 20% of the children in Harare are believed to be child labourers and a greater number of these children are often taken into domestic work as child minders or housemaids,” they said.

It said the achievements that had been made with regards to girls were disproportionately affected by factors such as COVID-19 and economic recession.

Veritas urged lawmakers to make an effort to ensure that girls have the right to attend school after pregnancy.

“Most societies have for centuries suppressed equal opportunities for the girl child, statistics indicate that there is a lot more that needs to be done when it comes to empowering the girl child and allowing her to have a voice towards her future,” it said.

The plea to promote the rights of the girl child comes at a time Mutasa district traditional leader Lovemore Mutasa yesterday urged government to curb the rising cases of online abuse of girls.

Mutasa said this during belated commemorations of the girl child at a function organised by Plan International and the Youth ministry in Mutare.

This year’s commemorations ran under the theme Let There Be Freedom for Girls Online.

“Social media has its advantages and disadvantages as there are some unruly elements that are abusing it, and I think that most people are aware of the abuses,” Chief Mutasa said.
“The girl child is the most affected by social media abuses and they end up committing suicide,” he said.

Chief Mutasa said government should come up with very stringent laws that criminalise abuse of girls on social media.

“As traditional leaders, we are saying that the girl child should grow to her full potential and parents must be warned against marrying off underage girls (due to) COVID-19 lockdown hardships,” he said.

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