Lovemore Kadzura Rusape Correspondent
THE cancer of child marriage continues to raise its ugly head in Makoni where 89 under-age schoolgirls have dropped out of school to get married after falling pregnant.
The statistics are contained in a report by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in Makoni titled “Drop outs due to pregnancy – 2019”.
The schoolgirls fell pregnant between January and September 2019 and the figure could have been under-reported as some schools failed to submit their statistics on time.
The statistics could also have swelled in October, November and December.
So shocking and disturbing are the revelations that even juveniles in primary schools were not spared, as eight of them dropped out due to pregnancy.
Rural schools are the most affected as out of the 30 affected ones, only one is an urban school. Chiundu High tops the list with 18, followed by Inyati Mine High with 17. Nyamusosa Secondary School and Manonga have seven each while Ruombwe and Dumbamwe have six and five, respectively,
The 24 schools have statistics ranging between one and four.
The youngest girl to fall pregnant was 13 years old while out of the 89, only two are above 18. The shocking figures have left a lot of questions unanswered on whether young girls have clear understanding of abstinence, safe sex and the effectiveness of sexual and reproductive health education in schools.
It has been argued that there were serious gaps in youth sexual and reproductive health issues in rural and resettlement schools resulting in young girls being lured into risky and premature unprotected sex.
Such risky engagements expose them to devastating effects such as obstetric fistula, risk of HIV infection, physical, economic and spiritual trauma.
Makoni District National Aids Council Co-ordinator Mr Amnot Chipandamira said tremendous efforts were in place for the protection of the out-of-school girls, but results on the ground remain disturbing.
He said 1 945 girls are under the DREAMS project, but worryingly some of them were dropping out of school owing to pregnancy.
“Under the DREAMS project, 1 945 girls in primary and secondary schools are receiving funding in terms of fees, school uniforms and stationery. We are also taking drop-outs back to school so that they rebuild their lives. The programme has its fair share of success and challenges. Some girls are excelling, but we have sad scenarios where some beneficiaries are among those falling pregnant and dropping out.
“We are encouraging schoolchildren to abstain from indulging in sex before marriage. The education ministry does not allow condoms in schools as a matter of policy, so we do not educate them on safe sex methods. These girls are exposed to HIV, which is very sad. The HIV prevalence rate in the district is 11,3 percent,” he said.
Mr Chipandamira noted that out-of- school men were the main culprits targeting young girls.
“There is need to engage communities to protect young girls. Educating pupils while ignoring the community is a futile exercise. There is also need to regulate ‘bush boarding schools’ which are offering accommodation to learners close to schools. These are proving to be easy hunting grounds for child molesters,” he said.
Zimbabwe Rural Teachers’ Union president Mr Martin Chaburumunda bemoaned the situation saying there was need to engage community leaders to curb the scourge.
“It is not only peculiar to Makoni, but it is a national challenge. Schools offer Guidance and Counselling lessons where information relating to sex, diseases and general life issues is imparted to learners.
“Maybe there is need to review the content. Stakeholders must also be engaged because predators are found in their areas.
“School learners from disintegrated families are the most affected,” said Mr Chaburumunda.
Manicaland provincial education director Mr Edward Shumba was not readily available for a comment.