A COMMUNITY raises a child and when a child is abused and the community keeps quiet, then something has gone awfully wrong with that community.
Child abuse seems to be on the increase, or rather it is awareness that has grown, ending with communities raising the red flag when abuse occurs. If this is the case, then the message to rescue children from abuse is gaining momentum.
Statistics show that about 500 000 teenagers fall pregnant each year. It is reported that 19 percent of these pregnancies are a result of “child marriages”. I choose not to call this “child marriages”. This is child rape.
As w all know, giving birth is an arduous task that a minor is unable to carry out without endangering their lives. Adolescent pregnancy poses risks of maternal and child morbidity and mortality.
The other health risks are pregnancy complications such as as obstetric fistula, uterus rapture from unsafe abortions.
Zimbabwe’s population is young with 24 percent made up by the 15 to 19 age group. A report published early this year by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) said 19 percent of the 15 to 19 age group fell pregnant. “Almost a fifth – 19 percent of female adolescents between 15-19 years were pregnant, resulting from early marriages,” the report noted.
“Of this, 48 percent said the pregnancies were unplanned,” the report added. “Another concern on children is the proportion of adolescent girls aged between 15 and 17 years who got pregnant because of early marriage, which stands at 19 percent, showing the prevalence of child marriages in the country,” said the report.
“About 11 percent were sexually abused or raped,” reads the report.
The report noted that Mashonaland Central had the highest prevalence rate of adolescents falling pregnant with 25 percent, followed by Manicaland at 25,4 percent.
Matabeleland North stood at 23,6 percent, Matabeleland South at 22 percent and Mashonaland East at 18,5 percent, the report noted. Mashonaland West stood at 16,3 percent, with Bulawayo with a low of 11,1 percent. “Masvingo had a low pregnancy prevalent rate of 8,3 percent, with Harare having the least of 6,8 percent,” the report said.
Ms Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, an AU Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child Marriages, speaking recently on her Facebook wall, said anyone who sleeps with a minor would be raping that child.
She was speaking in relation to a nine-year-old-child who was purported to be involved in sex work. Ms Gumbonzvanda said a nine-year-old can’t consent to sex and anyone who does so is raping that child. “In my context this is rape, it is sexual exploitation, it is serious abuse. In my book, it is a crime against humanity. It is torture, inhuman and degrading,” Ms Gumbonzvanda said to a large audience that follows her.
She called for collective action against such abuse. “A nine-year-old can’t do ‘commercial sex work’. They are NOT prostitutes. They are children, victims of serious crimes, survivors with that little voice crying out for protection, piercing our conscience for our collective action,” she said. A follower agreed that children in such circumstances needed protection from the perverts.
The UN estimates that globally 15 million girls are victims of child marriages annually. This is more than the population of Zimbabwe. Ms Gumbonzvanda said the minors were girls not brides.She noted this when Zimbabwe launched the AU Campaign to End Child Marriages in Africa in 2015, under the theme, “We are girls not brides”.
Ms Gumbonzvanda urged communities to move from that dangerous ground of marrying off minors to protecting children. “We must move from vulnerability to voice and leadership. Africa is young and full of innovation. This energy must be harnessed to ensure that we have a lasting solution to this vice,” she said.
The result that girls got married early stemmed from lack of good education.
Ms Gumbonzvanda called for a second chance of all school drop-outs.
As communities if we keep our silence when a child is abused, we, too are guilty as the abusers.