'Child sexual abuse rife in Chihota'

HARARE - As 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence come to a close, many districts in Zimbabwe are battling high incidences of sexual abuse involving the girl child.

Child marriages and sexual abuse, in particular, have remained prevalent in Chihota District in Mashonaland East.

Chief Nenguwo Augustine Chagoresango told a gender symposium held by Shamwari Yemwanasikana (SYS) that the scourge has reached unprecedented levels in his area.

“I am unhappy because men are raping young girls and we have never had such a thing before. It is a taboo that a 75 year-old man rapes a 15-year-old child, it is halting the rains,” he said.

“We usually charge five cattle (as a penalty) for such atrocities but I think the law should sentence perpetrators based on the number of their age added together with the victims’ age because this is really unheard of,” added Chagoresango.

Child marriages have for long been used as ticket meals by parents and guardians who marry-off their children in exchange for food and money.

The trend is also being precipitated by erroneous beliefs, especially the belief that sleeping with a virgin cures HIV/Aids. Communities are also alarmed by some members of the apostolic sect who use spiritual authority to force parents to consent to marrying-off their young girls.

In one case recorded by SYS, a 14-year-old was reportedly raped by her teacher, who had offered to teach her mathematics.

The teacher allegedly hid in the bushes and raped the girl while she was coming from church, after she had refused his advances.

Another 15-year-old was also reportedly raped and impregnated by her grandfather.

And in another incident, a girl was raped and threatened by a community member who had hidden in the bushes when she was coming from church.

Most of these victims had to quit school after relatives discovered they were pregnant. This has resulted in children as young as 15 years delivering babies. One community member Nobert Chivase ,45, confirmed the tragic events.

“It is true, girls are becoming mothers at a young age but non-governmental organisations have been bringing knowledge and people are changing,” he said.

SYS director and women and girls rights activist Ekenia Chifamba said programmes have been launched in Chihota and elsewhere in conjunction with the Canadian embassy to deal with cases of child sexual abuse.

To curb barriers against gender equality through meaningful engagement of the community, SYS has launched Fostering Girl Child Led and Centred Advocacy project.

“The project came as a result of the influx of local girls and women who face double marginalisation due to patriarchal marginalisation…because they are in a predominantly rural area, with little or no knowledge of girls and women’s rights as well as gender equality… this becomes a challenges that continues to exacerbate the incidents of GBV, abuse, child marriages, early pregnancies, increased abortions, child prostitution, amongst a number of issues that have torn the social fabric in the district,” she said.

By funding SYS, Canadian ambassador to Zimbabwe Rene’ Cremonese, said they want to promote child-led dialogue to help Zimbabwe address issues of gender inequalities and abuses and promote sexual reproductive health rights.

“What we must remember is that for every child who experiences GBV especially in forms of child marriages, rapes, physical and mental abuse; a whole generation will be impacted.

“We are working with organisations such as the SYS, particularly in the areas of sexual and reproductive health; in the fight against child, early and forced marriage; and in enabling access to the formal economy and decision making.”

 

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