While the coronavirus-induced lockdowns have managed to tame runaway fatalities and infections, they have unfortunately led to an unwanted consequence of soaring child abuse cases.
Children are reportedly being violated by the very same people they trust the most.
Instead of using time afforded by the lockdown to bond, some people are taking advantage by preying on the vulnerable, especially minors.
The statistics are shocking.
The crimes range from sexual, verbal and physical abuse.
ZPCS national deputy spokesperson Mr Peter Chaparanganda said the unprecedented spike in child abuse cases is worrying.
Eighty percent of the offenders are male.
“Most of the offenders had sex with a minor and this is very disturbing because of the negative effects this comes with on the survivor,” he said.
“This year, of the 671 who were jailed for child abuse from January to June, 644 are males. They should be protecting society but have instead become monsters.”
The Zimbabwe Republic Police is equally disturbed.
“We are currently compiling a report for the Commissioner-General of all crimes. We will give you the data when it is ready,” said Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said.
Childline Zimbabwe, Girl Guides Association of Zimbabwe (GGAZ), Shamwari yeMwanasikana and Vavhumbamirei, among organisations representing children’s rights, argue the number of cases could be much higher.
They claim most cases, especially in rural areas, go unreported and are only detected when something goes horribly wrong.
The case of 14-year-old Anna Machaya, who allegedly died while giving birth at a church shrine in Marange, Manicaland, quickly comes to mind.
Some religious leaders and traditionalists are believed to be major perpetrators of abuse.
“What happened in Marange is a reflection of what is happening under the cover of darkness in many areas, especially in these religious communities. Action should have been taken when the child was married off,” said Save the Children Zimbabwe spokesperson Sophie Hamandishe.
“We have more cases out there and it is disturbing. Instead of sweeping such cases under the carpet, only to take action when we lose a precious life is wrong, we need to put our heads together to end this rot that is clearly getting out of hand.”
The GGAZ says it received more than 100 reports of child abuse through walk-ins and calls in the first half of this year, which was more than double the number they recorded in a comparative period in 2020.
“Many minors are being forced to lockdown at home with their abusers at a time when services to curb abuse and support survivors, are being disrupted or made inaccessible.
“We are calling for you to take urgent action in addressing the issue and, as GGAZ, we aim to provide suitable non-formal programmes for minors, largely girls across cultures, traditions and religions, enabling them to fully develop their potential and responsibility towards the changing world,” reads part of the letter dated July 27, 2021 that GGAZ wrote to Government.
“We need to make sure children understand the importance of education so that we have a few or no school dropouts. There is also need to enforce laws that safeguard the vulnerable groups,” said the association’s commissioner, Ms Florence Madhuku.
Similarly, Girl Child Network Zimbabwe registered a 70 percent increase in reported cases through its various platforms in the January to June period. Of the cases, only 13 percent were committed by strangers, with the rest being perpetrated by close relatives.
The organisation’s national coordinator, Ms Shingayi Nyirenda, said their statistics singled out Midlands as the most affected province. The age of most victims is between 12 and 17.
“An average of 41 percent of the cases per year are from Midlands province, followed by Mashonaland East, which accounts for 29 percent. However, we note that there are areas like Manicaland where they have somehow normalised child marriages, hence these cases are never reported,” she said.
“It is also worrying to note that parents and guardians have resorted to leaving their children in the custody of relatives whilst they seek employment in the Diaspora. Most of these children have often become victims.”
Girl Child Network Zimbabwe has since come up with a 24-hour reporting platform where victims can be assisted and referred to help centres close to them.
“We also had to make active our Facebook page. We can now attend to clients from all over the country and assist them to report their cases. On the other hand, we will soon roll out a programme targeted at ending child sexual exploitation,” added Ms Nyirenda.
“In this Covid-19 era, it is worth pursuing projects to help sustain livelihoods within communities so as to reduce the risk of minors getting married off or abused for benefits.”
All hands on deck
Child abuse issues remain prevalent in most communities despite spirited efforts by authorities to curb the vice.
“It is often a challenge for single mothers, especially when you have a girl-child. When you remarry, the new person in your life may see a potential wife in your child instead of considering her as a child that needs protection,” said Mai Panashe.
Traditional leaders and heads of various religious groups are calling for concerted efforts in fighting child abuse.
“Most households belong to a particular church which makes religion one of the most powerful voices we can use to speak against child abuse. Churches have become hunting grounds, sweeping crimes under the carpet. There is need to dig deep and report these cases. Churches, especially apostolic sects, need to preach against any forms of abuse, and only then can society be safe again,” notes Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) leader Archbishop Johannes Ndanga.