Tendai Chara and Veronica Gwaze
The prolonged period of inactivity spawned by the Covid-19-induced lockdown, which began on March 30, is brewing cases of juvenile delinquency, with a local organisation reporting a 60 percent rise in child marriages, sexual assault and domestic violence, among other disturbing trends in the March to August period.
It is now 159 days since schools shut their doors on March 24 — a week before they were officially scheduled to close — as Government took pre-emptive measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Most learners have been idle since then.
According to Shamwari Yemwanasika, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that works mostly with the girl-child, the rise in delinquencies has been affecting both boys and girls.
“The lockdown brought with it a lot of problems for teenagers. We have recorded a 60 percent surge in child marriages, juvenile delinquency, sexual assault and domestic violence cases, among others. This is a worrying trend,” said Ms Ekenia Chifamba, a director of the NGO.
In the six-month period to August, the organisation recorded 200 cases, of which 30 cases were of sexual assault, 13 were of child marriages, five were of emotional abuse, while seven were for physical abuse.
There were eight cases of juvenile delinquency and three cases of cyber bullying, while cases of domestic violence and emotional abuse were 13 and five, respectively.
What is worrying is that four teenagers attempted suicide during this period, with five others undergoing unsafe abortions.
In addition, five cases of teen pregnancies were reported, while 40 girls sought humanitarian assistance.
Overall, this represents a 60 percent jump in reported cases from the same period last year.
Ms Chifamba said water shortages in most urban centres had resulted in girls being physically, verbally and sexually abused.
“We are having reports in which borehole marshals are fondling girls and asking for sexual favours from girls. We are also dealing with juveniles who are sexually active from as early as 10 years of age. The sad thing is that the majority of such cases are not reported,” she said.
Padare, another NGO that is working with teenagers, reported a spike in complaints from teenagers during the lockdown.
The organisation is handling 10 cases involving teenagers each month.
“Before the lockdown, the only complaints that we handled involved mostly men. Now we are having boys coming to us seeking help in issues to do with mostly drug and emotional abuse. This is a major shift which is also worrying,” said Meseli Nyoni, Padare’s programmes officer.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Professor Paul Mavima said parents had the responsibility to keep an eye on their kids during the lockdown.
Parents and educators, he said, could craft programmes that keep school-going ages busy and away from alcohol and drug abuse.
“It is in fact up to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to come up with programmes that keep school-going age groups busy during this period. As a ministry, we mainly deal with assistance of the vulnerable and rehabilitation of some.
“However, in terms of rehabilitation, our patients usually come as referrals from the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs,” said Minister Mavima.
Health experts believe that isolation, which normally results from lockdowns and quarantine, often leads to psychosocial challenges, which sometimes manifest in various forms of abuse. According to Musasa Project, 3 500 cases of gender-based violence were reported from March up until July 25 this year.