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Tackling the scourge of child pregnancies in Zim requires multi-sectoral collaboration

By Lawrence Makamanzi

THE recently released statistics by the Health and Child Care ministry indicating that 680 girls aged between 10-14 years fell pregnant between January and June 2023, as reported by The Herald, are deeply disturbing and strongly underscore the urgent need for concerted action to protect the rights and future of Zimbabwe’s children.

As reported in The Herald, acting Health minister Paul Mavima rightly described these figures as “worrying” and “a big indictment on our society”.

Such statistics evoke a sense of outrage and determination to work with all stakeholders towards eliminating practices that deprive children of their childhood.

Over 500 children in just six months were deprived of their childhood through pregnancy in blantant violation of Zimbabwean law and our international obligations under conventions like the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This development indicates a clear failure by various sectors to adequately safeguard children from sexual exploitation and abuse, despite existing legal protections enshrined in our progressive Constitution and statutes such as the recent Marriages Act which prohibits marriage of minors under 18.

While legal reforms are commendable, effective implementation clearly requires urgent strengthening of co-ordination between institutions such as the community, family, education system, social welfare, Judiciary, police and traditional leadership.

Poverty and lack of opportunities push vulnerable families into desperate situations, increasing risk of transactional sex and child marriages.

As such, concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed to empower communities through rights-based, sustainable livelihood programmes.

Traditional and religious leaders as gatekeepers of sociocultural norms must unequivocally condemn practices enabling child marriages and pregnancies which violate both Zimbabwean law and international conventions that Zimbabwe is signatory to.

Communities must take collective responsibility in nurturing responsible citizenry and addressing root causes that drive vulnerabilities such as poverty, by empowering families with sustainable livelihoods.

The education sector has a duty to intensify sexuality education appropriate to children’s maturity and empower them to protect their dignity.

The Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry must strengthen child protection systems and provide appropriate psycho-social support services.

More essentially, strong political will and well-resourced, well-co-ordinated institutions are urgently required.

Law enforcement agencies must expeditiously investigate all reported cases and ensure perpetrators face justice to the full extent of the law.

While First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa’s initiatives in promoting prevention are commendable, a rights-based approach requires mainstreaming human rights, gender awareness and child safeguarding across all national development strategies.

True change will only come through open acknowledgement that protecting our children from harm is the paramount duty of every citizen, official and leader.

If we truly wish to build an equitable, just Zimbabwe with a productive future generation, we cannot remain silent or ambivalent as violations continue under our watch.

Our collective action today will determine the statistics of violated childhoods we release and prevent, in the years to come. For the sake of Zimbabwe’s children, decisive, co-ordinated multi-sectoral action is not an option, it is an urgent national priority.

Lawrence Makamanzi is a child rights advocate in Zimbabwe who is passionate about advancing legal frameworks and development policies to fully protect children’s wellbeing and dignity in Zimbabwean society through advocacy, training and community outreach. He writes in his personal capacity and is reachable on his email address or 0784318605.


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