BY MOSES MUGUGUNYEKI
At the age of 27, Precious Nyatande is already a mother of a 14-year-old daughter.
She got married at the age of 13, but she swears that she won’t allow her teenage daughter to follow her footsteps.
Nyatande of Katsine village in Angwa [ward 2] in Mbire district is among hordes of young women in Mashonaland Central province who are victims of child marriage.
Child marriage is rife in the area and according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) (2015), prevalence of child marriage in Mashonaland Central is 50%, making it the highest in the country.
The survey also revealed that the province has the highest proportion (26%) of children out of school.
Nyatande said she had big dreams, but she could not build her future because she received a wooden spoon from her parents when it came to education.
She said as a young girl she contemplated getting a decent job and marrying at a later stage of her life, but it was not to be as her dreams were shattered after she was compelled to drop out of school while at primary level.
“I had always wanted to pursue my studies and go to secondary school,” said Nyatande.
“It would have been a bolt from the blue had I gone to secondary school because it would have been a first in my area if I had pursued my studies, more so being a girl child because further education was regarded as a preserve for boys.
“It was ‘taboo’ for children in my area to go to school because many people before us never went to school.”
The mother of four, who is part of a goat-rearing project meant to empower young women, said there was a shortage of schools in the area which compelled some pupils to walk about 20km to the nearest school through the wildlife-infested forests.
“Even when the parents wanted to send us to school, the schools were far away. In our case, you would have to walk 8km to Chitima Primary School. Those in infant classes would not go every day while those in junior classes would drop out of school due to exhaustion,” Nyatande said.
She said a school was built at the nearby Mazambara area where pupils walk less than 2km.
A 2018 survey conducted by the Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ) revealed that in addition to the distant schools in Mbire, hunger and lack of proper clothing, including uniforms for children, hindered access to education in the area.
For Nyatande, she is much concerned about her daughter whom she vowed to guard jealously against “predators“.
“I will do everything possible to keep her in school and support her in whatever she wants to do as long it does not harm her. I always sit down with her and talk about sexual and reproductive health,” Nyatande said.
“It’s fortunate that we are learning a lot on sexual and reproduction health through our empowerment programmes by Katswe Sisters. Apart from rearing goats, we also go through sessions on sexual and reproductive health as well as HIV and cancer prevention, among others.”
Nyatande described child marriages as an elephant in the room, something she said was causing gender-based violence.
National Aids Council (NAC) district coordinator for Mbire Claudius Musandaira said they have come up with a cocktail of intervention strategies meant to curb child marriages, gender-based violence and new HIV infections.
“Mbire district has an HIV prevalence rate of 6,6%, one of the lowest in the country. However, the district has one of the highest child marriage and gender-based violence prevalence in the country. As NAC following our assessment, we saw it prudent to close the tap and stop new HIV infections,” he said.
“We believe gender-based violence and child marriages work hand in hand as both are drivers of HIV and STIs.
“In that regard we have introduced programmes where we are working with partners in addressing these issues. We have programmes targeted at girls and young women. We have a DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, Aids-free, Mentored and Safe) that we are implementing as NAC and we have a Sista2Sista programme that is being implemented by Katswe Sisters in ward 2 [Angwa].”
Musandaira said the number of school dropouts in Mbire is worrying.
“Most children in Mbire district are out of school because the schools are far away. Children walk long distances a day, which forces many to drop out of school,” he said.
“According to the figures that we got from the Education ministry in Mbire, in 2016, 121 students dropped out of school, while 77 dropped out the following year. One-hundred and ninety-nine and 131 dropped out of school in 2018 and 2019 respectively. However, last year the district recorded 269 dropouts, a figure that is worrying.”
However, Musandaira attributed last year’s huge number of dropouts to the prolonged closure of schools.
He said a large chunk of girls, who dropped out of school was because of pregnancy.
“This year between January and March, of the 400 pupils, who dropped out of school, 187 were due to early marriage,” he said.
District development coordinator for Mbire Richard Maruta said there was need for unity in dealing with the scourge of child marriages and gender-based violence in the district.
“We are happy that people are joining hands in fighting child marriages here in Mbire. It is something that is a cause for concern in the district and we believe these efforts to end the scourge won’t come to zero,” Maruta said.
“As a district, we are working tirelessly to address the issue of schools. We don’t have schools, which I believe is contributing to the rise of child marriages. People here lack education, hence the rise in child marriages and gender-based violence.”
Maruta said they are making efforts to have the magistrate courts in Mbire where cases of child marriages and sexual abuse are tried promptly.
To expedite justice on cases of sexual abuse and gender-based violence in Mbire district, Katswe Sisters introduced vouchers where they are paying victims to attend court sessions or visit police stations.
“We have a number of programmes that we introduced here with the hope of putting to an end child marriages and gender-based violence,” said Katswe Sisters programmes officer Fadziso Maunganidze.
“We are implementing a goat-rearing programme where we give groups of women goats which they rear and after sometime they hand over the goats to the next group. This is a programme meant to empower them so that they don’t rely much on their husbands,” she said.
“We also assist victims of rape and gender-based violence to make reports promptly to the police. We also assist them to go to the courts or police stations through a voucher that allows them to pay for transport and food.”
Maunganidze said they were also rolling out awareness campaigns across the districts targeting communities where child marriages are widespread, particularly in areas that have the Doma people.
“We are happy that communities have embraced our awareness campaigns that also involve both men and women. Traditional leaders are part of the programmes and we believe their involvement will influence their subjects to do the right thing,” she said.
Zimbabwe has made giant strides in trying to mainstream gender issues in all sectors in order to eliminate all negative economic, social and cultural practices that impede equality and equity of sexes.
Among such efforts, the country has ratified and acceded to several declarations, conventions and protocols aimed at creating an enabling environment for the attainment of gender equality and equity.
Social commentator Dorothy Chirwa Tumbo while applauding efforts being done by government and the civil society in trying to address the social and economic imbalances, said there were a myriad of barriers to gender balance, especially in communities like Mbire.
“There are cultural, social and economic issues that are hindering gender balance in these marginalised communities,” she said.
“We might have all those conventions, declarations and protocols signed before us, but as long as we fail to tackle these cultural, social and economic challenges we won’t get there.”
Chirwa Tumbo said denying the girl child access to education as is the case in Mbire district was endangering efforts to realise the internationally agreed sustainable development goal number four, which says “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”.
Today, over two-thirds of the world’s 860 million illiterates are women. The International Labour Organisation says failure to educate girls costs developing countries $92 billion a year.
Chirwa Tumbo said educating a girl was key to national development.
“Educating girls, in particular, paves the way for wider changes in families, societies and workplaces,” she said.
“Educated girls are more likely to have better income as adults, marry later, have fewer and healthier children and stronger decision-making power within the household.
“They are also more likely to ensure that their own children are educated, avoiding future child labour,” she said.