Young researchers drawn from all corners of Zimbabwe under the Students And Youths Working on Reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT) research programme have unearthed disturbing data about drug and substance use among young people at high school and tertiary level.
The findings also revealed worrying statistics on gender-based violence (GBV) cases around the country.
Presenting their findings during the third edition of the SAYWHAT research, Thabo Dube, one of the researchers, revealed that female learners are now taking drugs for different reasons.
He said some are taking drugs as a booster during sporting events while others take drugs as a way to escape from personal challenges.
“Female students are introduced to alcohol and other substances by their male counterparts who include boyfriends, blessers and classmates,” said Dube.
“Some learners at different high schools are taking marijuana as a booster when they partake in sporting activities.
“Another crop of girls is also taking drugs and alcohol as escapism from personal challenges.
“The majority of learners are taking drugs during weekends when they go out for partying where casual sexual encounters more often than not ensue.”
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The indaba was running under the theme, Promoting evidence-based advocacy on education and health rights.
Young people, who turn to drugs for any reason are vulnerable to HIV and Aids among other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) the researchers said.
Parliamentarians, who graced the indaba concurred with the young researchers, but lamented the catch and release of drug peddlers who then continue to bring illegal drugs into the country.
Legislator for Seke-Chikomba constituency (PR) Tatenda Mavetera said drug lords must be jailed.
“You hear about the arrest and the quick release of people who are involved in drugs and substances business and this is not deterring them,” she said.
“In other countries, if you are caught with illegal drugs you are beheaded.
“Here in Zimbabwe, we want those caught in the business of illegal drugs to be jailed for life. We need stiff penalties.”
On GBV, the researchers revealed that young women and girls were the most affected as evidenced by numerous reports of sexual harassment and exploitation.
Female students across the country have been established as the most vulnerable constituency to sexual GBV.
“Female students are being abused by their male counterparts, lecturers and some older men outside campus as they tend to seek financial help,” one of the researchers said.
“Some male students offer financial help to female students in exchange of sexual favors.
“This has also led to semester marriages where partners end up fighting over infidelity issues.
“At some universities, female students are engaging in commercial sex to raise fees and other necessities during the course of the semester.
“This is exposing them to sexual harassment and abuse as well as STIs.”
The research indaba was also graced by professors and senior academics around Zimbabwe who pledged to mentor young researchers so that they gain more research skills to match international research standards.