BY LORRAINE MUROMO
EARLY child marriages have reportedly shot to alarming levels across the country since the imposition of COVID-19-induced lockdowns from March last year, with civil society groups demanding an urgent end to the vice.
A recent survey by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has also indicated a sharp increase in child marriages globally, with 14 million underage girls married off each year.
“Child marriage is globally recognised as a violation of the rights of the child and a risk factor for violence against children,” Unicef said on its Twitter handle.
Girl child rights advocates have scaled up campaigns to end the practice.
According to a research conducted by local child rights group, Shamwari YeMwanasikana, over 25% of female students had failed to return to school because there are either married or pregnant although government recently introduced a policy to allow them to continue attending classes.
Shamwari YeMwanasikana claimed about 5 000 girls fell pregnant during the just-ended lockdown period.
The rights group’s programmes co-ordinator Florence Mutake yesterday said her organisation recorded 225 cases of sexual abuse and 275 cases of child marriages between March 2020 and March this year.
Of the cases, only 10 convictions were made while 56 are still outstanding.
She, however, expressed concern over the delays in the conclusion of trials, which have seen victims losing hope and dropping charges in the process.
“The main issue of concern is with the court process having been delayed due to COVID-19-imposed restrictions which affected movement and travels. Hence, case withdraws have become common due to frustrations and financial incapacitation by complainants to continue with the back and forth process,” Mutake said in a statement.
She said there was need to expedite the Marriages Bill.
Rozaria Memorial Trust founder and chief executive Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda said 90% of the cases were a result of rape and incest.
“We concluded a regional research for Zimbabwe and other countries in Africa and our data concluded high numbers in teenage pregnancies and early child marriages,” Gumbonzvanda said.
She added that perpetrators were in most cases going scot-free because of the compromised justice delivery systems.