Harmful practices against children rampant in Hwange — Report

HARARE - Early marriages and child prostitution where minors charge as little as a $1 for a sexual encounter in Hwange have been recorded as the most prevalent cases of harmful practices against children.

This unfortunate state of affairs was unearthed in a report entitled Harmful Social and Cultural Practices Affecting Children: Our Collective Responsibility which was produced by the Zimbabwe Youth Council in partnership with Unicef.

The report was launched in Harare on Thursday by the deputy minister of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Matthias Tongofa.

“Child prostitution was reported as highly prevalent in transit towns, Ngundu, Neshuro, Hwange and Lukosi. Prostitution varies from highly organised to opportunistic. The most dire situation was reported by participants in Hwange where young girls were reported to charge as little as $1,” reads part of the report.

Most of the reported cases of child prostitution were linked to bottle stores and trucks. Participants in the study said there was need to engage with business owners and truck owners to ensure that children are protected.

The approach of collecting data for the report allowed children, community members, and other people involved, to articulate their views and feelings regarding the welfare of children and some of the prevalent practices that are harming children.

Early marriages were reported as the most common harmful practice in all the seven areas. The report said; “In most cases, participants reported that early marriages are accompanied by emotional, physical and psychological abuse.

Early marriages also lead to increased vulnerability especially in cases where young girls are burdened with the responsibility of looking after the family.

“While most early marriages can be classified as statutory rape, most parties often opt for negotiated settlements, and in some cases parents will accept bride wealth.”

Child labour was also established as a form of harmful practice affecting children.

“Cases of child labour are prevalent in communal communities. The participants noted that most children are asked to herd cows during school time like in Mwenezi and Chikombedzi, while some look after the fields in order to keep wildlife away like in Mudzi and Uzumba, or to pan gold in Uzumba. All communities had challenges distinguishing between child work and child labour,” the report pointed out.

Other harmful practises mentioned in the report has to do with sexual abuse which is highly under-reported because it is mostly committed by people that are close to the victims.

Border jumping was reported as a significant problem in the border areas such as Chikombedzi, Hwange, Mwenezi and Ngundu. Border jumping is driven by the search for economic opportunities in South Africa.

Upon completing grade seven, most young boys cross the border in search of jobs in South Africa. The challenge is that most of the children are victimised en-route to South Africa or Botswana.

The participants gave recommendations that would be used for lobbying by the junior parliamentarians.

Tongofa said the report would be used as a tool for the Junior Parliament advocacy programme with other child-led groups to enhance their appreciation and their engagement with various stakeholders including the government.

“I am reliably informed that this report incorporated experiences of other organisations working on child protection. This was done through stakeholders roundtable held on February.

This is over and above the findings from the community consultations conducted in seven districts around the country,” the deputy minister said.

A director in the ministry of Sport, Art and Culture, Kudzai Mutuwira said it is the mandate of his ministry to deliberately develop and promote such cultural thought and practice that positively impacts on the Zimbabwean society.

“The purpose is to have communities in Zimbabwe that exude a dignity and pride in themselves as they contribute to the wider national pride. This outcome is not possible if the input in the development of our children is the negative harmful and social practices,” said Mutuwira.

Mutuwira said the ministry will support the junior Parliament in working towards social change in the communities.

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