By NQOBANI NDLOVU
BEITBRIDGE recorded an increase in teenage pregnancies and early child marriages, particularly in areas closer to illegal exit and entry points to neighbouring South Africa where there is a thriving informal economy.
According to findings of a Population Mobility Mapping (PMM) study conducted in October, there was an increase in teenage pregnancies and child marriages during the COVID-19-induced school closure.
The study was jointly executed by International Organisation for Immigration (IOM) and government to gather information on population mobility and cross-border movements.
The findings of the study showed that both Beitbridge rural and urban districts were high mobility districts with Beitbridge Border Post as the main and official point of entry into Zimbabwe from South Africa but at the same time there are more than 22 unofficial points of entry, indicative of high irregular migration.
Activities around the unofficial points of entry have brought about several societal challenges among communities closer to the border such as teenage pregnancies, smuggling and child marriages, among other ills.
“However, there is still a gap for sexual and reproductive health services, as in some areas condoms, contraceptives and information were not readily available,” the report reads in part.
“An increase in teenage pregnancies and early marriages at the time of COVID-19 in the communities closer to informal points of entry was also reported.”
Zimbabwean law stipulates that sexual intercourse with girls below the age of 16 amounts to statutory rape.
“This (teenage pregnancies and early child marriages) was attributed to schools’ closure and lack of sexual reproductive health services in the communities such as access to condoms, contraceptives and information.
“For example, Shashe Clinic in ward 8 reported 38 teen pregnancies in the current quarter starting in October 2020, compared to the previous quarter (June to Sept 2020) in which 22 teen pregnancies were reported.”
Schools closed in March and only reopened in September under a phased approach with the last batch of learners returning to class in November.
Participants in the IMM study included representatives from the police, Health and Child Care, Local Government, Public Works and National Housing ministries, Immigration department and Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, among other agencies.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, reasons for teenage pregnancy include sexual abuse, lack of contraceptive use, perceptions that one would not fall pregnant and unplanned sexual conduct.