Stop harmful practices and abuse of children: UN agencies

Albert Chavhunduka

United Nations (UN) agencies in Zimbabwe unanimously called for an end to all forms of harmful practices which continue to perpetrate abuse and sexual exploitations of children leading to early child marriages.

The UN officials were speaking recently during this year’s commemorations of the Day of the African Child which was specially dedicated to the issue of ending detrimental cultural practices across the continent.

This year’s celebrations were held under the theme, “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy and Practice since 2013.”

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative Dr Esther Muia said bringing an end to early child marriages was a matter which should be treated with urgency adding that in Zimbabwe, it had resulted in children getting infected by sexually transmitted diseases especially among the girls.

“The Covid-19 pandemic unearthed things that we were not seeing before. Zimbabwe has a very high teen pregnancy rate. Can you imagine, out of every 1000 girls, there are 150 girls who are below the age of 18 who are getting pregnant,” said Dr Muia.

“Early marriage for me and for us at UNFP is totally unacceptable. If you get married early, the probability of you also getting sexually transmitted infections including HIV is much higher. In Zimbabwe today, the new cases of HIV in the age group of 15 to 19 is the highest.

“Let us work together and look at child marriage and its negative effects to the children. Let a child be child, and allow them to play and not to be looking after babies. If we don’t stop harmful practices, that what we are doing, throwing these girls in the deeper end when they don’t know how to swim, we are drowning them.”

UN-Zimbabwe Resident Coordinator Edward Kallon said, “We know the enormity of the challenge of child marriages, so let us take a hard look at what needs to change and what we are doing to end this scourge. The UN systems in Zimbabwe have been at the forefront to end violence against women and girls through supporting the national strategy which focuses on prevention as well as addressing institutional norms that perpetrate sexual violence.”

Kallon further applauded government for implementing legal statutes which are focused on protecting the right of children and curbing sexual exploitation in the country.

“Allow me to pay tribute to the recent Zimbabwe constitutional court ruling that increased the legal age of sexual consent from 16 to 18. Child marriages is a bigger problem that cut across countries, cultures and religions,” he said.

“Unless we accelerate our efforts according to some estimates, 150 million more girls will be married by 2030. Child marriage compromises girl’s development and often results in early pregnancies and social isolation.”

UN-Women Country Representative Fatou Aminata Lo weighed in and urged community leaders and parents to play their role in mentoring and grooming children which she said was important in breaking the patriarchal systems in our societies.

“As UN Women, we are increasingly focusing on these issues through our normative mandate but also, by working closely with traditional leaders, youths and various stakeholders and partners under our generational equality initiative,” she said.

“It is too often one of broken promises, one of silence or suppressed voices, one of harmful practices, a story of missed opportunities, unfulfilled dreams and potential. It has always been a struggle to change mind-sets and to challenge or shift the patriarchal systems and attitudes that allow, condone or perpetrate gender inequalities, harmful social norms and practices.

“This by the way, is not coming from the usual suspects, “men” but it’s coming from all parts of society, from men and unfortunately too often from women. Mother, aunts and sisters are playing a role in perpetrating some of this practices but they also can play a role in shifting them, in changing the narrative and mentor our young girls for far better outcomes.”

The June 16th annual event is celebrated in honour of the memories of students who were massacred in Soweto, South Africa back in 1976 after they had protested against education injustice and inequality in the apartheid regime.

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