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The Report on Harmful Social and Cultural Practices affecting children in Zimbabwe launched earlier this year by the Deputy Minister of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Mathias Tongofa painted a gloomy picture of the conditions young people are being exposed to.

The state of affairs points to the urgency to reverse the trend for the good of youths.

The report said early marriages were the most common harmful practice in all the seven areas consulted.

Early marriages are accompanied by emotional, physical and psychological abuse and 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 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 US$1.

Cases of child labour are prevalent in communal communities. The participants noted that most children were asked to herd cattle during school time in Mwenezi and Chikombedzi, while some in Mudzi and Uzumba look tend the fields and are involved in gold panning.

Sexual abuse cases were also reported in the seven areas. It is interesting to note that both early marriages and child prostitution are forms of child sexual abuse. While child sexual abuse is a common practice, it 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 and other neighbouring countries. Upon completing seventh grade, 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.

Given the extent of the problem and the need to protect our young people, Zimbabwe Youth Council, together with organisations within the child protection society guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC) which provides a universal framework for understanding the rights of children and further defines moral, social, political, and economic guidelines that member states should adhere to regarding the appropriate or acceptable treatment of children, proposed the following recommendations:

With regards to early marriages, participants proposed harmonising marriage laws in order to make it easy to prosecute offenders and make customary marriage bound by the law.

Child prostitution must be stemmed through the engagement of business owners and truck owners, fingered as the biggest culprits, to ensure that children are protected.

In the case of child labour, communities were encouraged to take the initiative to eliminate child labour practices and ensure that children attend school. On the other hand, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is currently working with other organisations and companies to ensure that children enrol for school.

With regards to sexual abuse, participants highlighted the need to create a conducive environment to ensure that children were able to report cases of sexual abuse when they occur.

In the case of boarder jumping, participates proposed the need to regularise travel especially for minors so that they travel with the required documentation. In addition, the Government needs to ensure that some of the push factors are addressed in order to reduce irregular migration in search of economic opportunities in Botswana and South Africa.

Innocent Katsande is the Communications and Aocacy Officer for Zimbabwe Youth Council.

Communities were also encouraged to promote alternative role models, in particular local success stories and the merit of education.

The result of this current research conducted by Zimbabwe Youth Council and UNICEF confirms that harmful cultural and social practices are prevalent in most communities.

These practices are influenced by several factors and in most cases people attribute poverty as a significant driver. In addition, orphans are most vulnerable to abuse in most social contexts. Based on the empirical data gathered during this study, there is need to implement the recommendations of the African Union.

The many stakeholders that participated in this research are an indication that there are several, though largely uncoordinated, efforts to eliminate harmful practices. It is time that these efforts are coordinated and harmonized in order to formulate a collective strategy.

The collective strategy should encompass the Government, Non-Governmental Organizations, and communities in order to develop a system that responds to, and serves the needs of children.

The scale of the problem in Zimbabwe indicates that vulnerable children are often the victims of harmful cultural and social practices.

National statistics indicate that more than 1 million children have been orphaned due to HIV and AIDS. This vulnerable group is prone to all forms of abuse.

It is the duty of various stakeholders to stem this scourge.

Innocent Katsande is the Communications and Aocacy Officer for Zimbabwe Youth Council.

Source : The Herald

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