A SURVEY on child marriages conducted by the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) has shown a disturbing trend which requires urgent action from the authorities.
The survey, whose results were released last week, showed that areas with a high concentration of illegal gold miners have the highest number of child marriages and teenage pregnancies in the country.
Zimbabwe has demonstrated that it is committed to eliminating child marriage by launching a national action plan on ending child marriages, but current data from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) indicates that one out of three girls in the country will be married before their 18th birthday.
While it is undeniable that Zimbabwe has made great progress to strengthen the institutional framework to outlaw child marriages, the ZGC report shows that a lot needs to be done to eradicate the practice in society.
It also shows the relationship between poverty and the prevalence of teen pregnancies and child marriages. Conversely, it also means that it is critical for government to improve economic performance and with it the standards of living among the citizens and reduce poverty, especially among vulnerable communities.
ZGC chairperson Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe said gold panners lure young girls with luxuries and money in return for sex.
“Poverty was cited as a major push factor which made the girls vulnerable resulting in children running away from their homes. Parents in the area were not valuing education,” she said at the launch of the report.
Among the most affected areas are Mashonaland East province’s Mudzi district, Umzingwane district in Matabeleland South, and Gweru in the Midlands.
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The stories are remarkably similar: “In Mashonaland East — Mudzi district, Ward 13, 14, 18, and 15 are considered hotspots for child marriages and sexual exploitation mainly due to illegal gold panning activities in these areas. The gold panners lure young girls with ‘nice things’ and end up impregnating them.”
“In Matabeleland South — Umzingwane district, teen pregnancies are usually a result of child marriages by gold panners who engage in sexual relationships with girls and young women.”
“In the Midlands province, Gweru rural district areas such as St Faith and Shamrock are popular gold panning areas and children as young as 13 years are involved in sex work.”
The ZGC report, coming after the country has reported two cases of nine-year-old girls that got pregnant — one of them having since given birth — means there is a lot of work to be done to stop the practice despite progress on the legislative front.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has a slogan: “No one and no place left behind,” but at this rate, a lot of our young girls are being left behind. Progressive legislation without implementation means nothing, because the vile practice continues unchecked.