The continued closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic in the country places girls in the danger of early child marriages, the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) has said.
The research body revealed this in a recent report titled Child Marriage and Covid-19 in Zimbabwe: An Unholy Alliance, by Larisa Chikanya and Tony Reeler. The study, which was recently launched, was done in conjunction with the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ), the Gender Media Connect (GMC) and was supported by the Swedish Embassy.
Zimbabwe’s schools remained closed since March when the pandemic hit the country, except for examination classes.
But the Primary and Secondary Education Minister Cain Mathema recently told parliament that the government planned to further open classes for grade six, form three and form five students as the government implements a phased approach to opening schools.
But teachers are still on strike, resulting in nefarious activities by school children, including sexual activity and drugs, and if school children continue to remain unsupervised it might end up in pregnancies and early child marriages.
“The emergence of Covid-19 pandemic is likely to result in a spike in the cases of child marriages in Zimbabwe because of the deepening poverty caused by the economic instability further widened by the lockdown depriving them of their income generating activities,” read the RAU report.
“This has disrupted the way of life especially for poor families that are dependent on the informal sector. It has limited them from moving freely to conduct their businesses. This causes further financial burdens and impoverishment onto families that may push them to marry off their young daughters
for survival,” they said.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that four million girls are at risk of child marriages in the next two years because of the pandemic. WEF (2020) also estimates that worldwide 12 million girls are married off under the age of 18; nearly one in every three seconds.
RAU said in Zimbabwe, 31% of girls are married before the majority age of 18, with the prevalence of sexual violence among girls being as high as 32,5%.
The report says the closure of schools provided teenage girls free time that made them vulnerable to coercion, exploitation, and sexual abuse, and that due to familial economic vulnerabilities, young girls end up forming relationships with older men to obtain money for food and clothing.
Some of the factors that endanger girls to early child marriages are said to include disrespect for human rights, existence of traditional, cultural beliefs, religion based practices, and poverty, which continue to fuel the practice of sexual and gender based violence.
“With children out of school and without anything to keep their minds busy, there is a risk of unplanned pregnancies that might exacerbate the unmet need of contraceptives,” they said.