Poverty, artisanal mining and the surge in teenage pregnancies Chief Nhema signs a Charter against child marriages representing the views of Ward 19 villagers

Patrick Chitumba

SHURUGWI and many other towns across the country are blessed with an outstanding mineral endowment but the impacts of artisanal gold mining on the environment, health and education are as many as the components that incite it.

The artisanal miners have proved to be a social menace in communities around the country, causing environmental degradation as well as engaging in wars over mining claims and gold.

Their socially deviant behaviour stretches beyond the terror of machete wars to the use of money in the continued exploitation of the girlchild with 23 girls at Chironde Secondary School in Ward 19 in Shurugwi having dropped out of school after being impregnated by artisanal miners.

This situation is not peculiar to Chironde Secondary School or Shurugwi district alone but in all communities where artisanal gold mining is taking place.

This publication understands that although various campaigns have been carried out against child sexual abuse, the practice is still rampant and every year many girls are forced to drop out of school after falling pregnant.

According to Zimbabwean laws, sexual intercourse with anyone below the age of 16 is a criminal offence, yet the majority of school girls who fell pregnant fall below the age of consent.

Last year, the Government amended the Education Act to allow pregnant girls back in class but reports indicate that a few girls were returning to school, as they have to assume motherly roles.
The Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (Zimstat) confirms that levels of child marriage remain unacceptably high in Zimbabwe.

According to the 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICs), one in three (32.6 percent) girls were married before the age of 18.

Zimstat data also indicate the rural-urban divide in child marriages where rural girls are twice more likely to be married before the age of 18 than their urban counterparts.

According to World Vision International, under the Improving Gender Attitudes, Transition, and Education Outcomes (IGATE) initiative, the girls’ education is uniquely threatened.
School closures increase vulnerability to child marriage, early pregnancy, and gender-based violence – all of which decrease the likelihood of girls continuing their education.

In Shurugwi district, artisanal miners both young and old make sure that when they hit a “score”, (mining lingo for getting gold) they go back to the townships or business centres such as Chironde where they dangle wads of United States dollars to their peers and obviously the intention will be to lure the school going young girls.

Last week, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) held a district community dialogue outreach programme at Chironde business centre where young girls, women and men all blamed the increase in artisanal gold mining to the surge in teenage pregnancies, early marriages and GBV.

A teenage girl (name withdrawn to protect her) said she didn’t have money to pay her school and examination fees following the death of her parents forcing her to look for an artisanal gold miner to support her.

“From the first term he paid my school fees and then my examination fees and that was after the death of my parents. We were doing good until I fell pregnant in June. All hell broke loose and I had to drop out of Chironde Secondary School. I am not the only one, we are many and we are suffering because of these artisanal gold miners,” she said.

Miss Kudzaishe Watch from the department of Social Welfare in Shurugwi told the meeting that child marriages, teenage pregnancies were rife in the district.

“Child marriages and teenage pregnancies are all rife in this Ward 19 and Gutsaruzhinji village from pupils in Grade 7 to A Level. You find a 10-year-old girl in a relationship with a 17-year-old boy or a 17-year-old girl going out with a 50-year-old guy. Most child marriages are not being reported. Twenty-three girls dropped out of Chironde Secondary School after falling pregnant mostly to artisanal gold miners,” she said.

Chief Nhema said poverty, peer pressure, Covid-19, and artisanal gold mining were all contributing to teenage pregnancies in his area.

“Poverty makes the children enter into relationships with these artisanal gold miners as they look for money for food and other things. For some, its peer pressure. Shurugwi is blessed with an outstanding mineral endowment and there is a surge in artisanal gold miners. Young boys drop out of school to go into gold panning. They come back to the villages dangling United States dollars and the girls because of poverty and peer pressure fall for them and get pregnant, enter into child marriages and are victims of domestic violence,” he said.

A villager, Mrs Maria Nyoni said there should be an educational policy that will see a smooth transition from pregnancy into motherhood and schooling.

She said without policies, teachers will continue to be hesitant towards teenage pregnancies, viewing it as none of their business but rather the children’s problem.

“There is a need for training of teachers, sensitising them to make changes in their perceptions in view of the current trends and to accept pregnant children wholeheartedly. There is a need to facilitate their re-entry into school after delivery because right now they are failing to go back to school because no-one from teachers to society accepts them. How can a teacher accept the pregnant pupil when her own family or her own parents have chucked her away?” asked Mrs Nyoni.

ZGC chairperson commissioner Margret Sangarwe said addressing child marriage was central to the work of the commission as it was one of the systemic barriers prejudicial to the achievement of gender equality in the county.

Child marriage she said impedes the full enjoyment of rights, it limits girls from accessing educational and economic opportunities that could lift them and their families out of poverty.

“Further, child marriage exposes the “brides” and their new-born babies to high health and death risks due to physiological immaturity. Over and above these effects, child marriage increases the risk of domestic violence and compromises one’s ability to exercise choice regarding sexual and reproductive health rights,” she said.
Commissioner Sangarwe said the community dialogue was coming at the backdrop of a significant rise in cases of child marriage in Zimbabwe.

“A case in point is the case of Anna Machaya, a 14-year-old girl who died whilst giving birth at an Apostolic shrine in Marange, Manicaland Province. The Anna Machaya case is only a representation of many other cases going unreported,” she said.

“Furthermore, it is worrisome to note that the situation has been further heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic and other humanitarian situations. During the lockdown period we have witnessed cases of child marriage escalating, a lot of young girls fell pregnant and were married off before the age of 18.”
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education communication and advocacy director, Mr Taungana Ndoro said the Government amended its Education Act, making it illegal for schools to expel students due to pregnancy.

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