Sunday News understands that although various campaigns have been carried out against child sexual abuse, the practice was 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.
Bulawayo provincial education director Mrs Olicah Kaira told a meeting hosted by the Matabeleland Council for the Welfare of the Child last week that since March last year when the country went into Covid-19 induced lockdown, at least 63 girls dropped out of school in the city after falling pregnant. However, in 2020, 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.
According to Mrs Kaira, last term, Bulawayo saw three girls drop out of school due to pregnancies, while one 12-year-old pupil committed suicide during the term.
“As a ministry in Bulawayo we received three cases reported of unintended pregnancies this term alone and we think there could be more unreported cases. Since the onset of the lockdown the total number of cases now stands at 63.
We also received a report of a 12-year-old who committed suicide, investigations conducted by the ministry revealed that the situation at home where the child lived could have influenced the suicide,” she said.
She also said school authorities were battling with increased drug abuse.
“The ministry is also battling the issue of drugs and substance abuse. Some children are bringing the drugs to school and when they are questioned the pupils say that the drugs will be coming from parents who ask them to sell at school.”
In a related incident, more than 40 girls have also dropped out of school after they were impregnated by gold panners at Mbelesini in Ntabazinduna, Umguza District in Matabeleland North province. Sunday News visited the area last week where officials and parents told of chaos that has been brought by marauding gold panners.
“Not only have gold panners allegedly been having affairs with school girls, they have also invaded people’s farms and homes in search of the yellow metal. Ward Six councillor Alexander Mnkandla said most of the girls were below the age of 18 years.
“I can’t really say the exact number but I know at least 40 girls who have dropped out of school due to these pregnancies and it is sad because the responsible people are gold miners who disappear after getting the girls pregnant,” said Clr Mnkandla.
He said in some cases girls were as young as 12 years.
“Most of the girls are lured by money and they do not even know the dangers they are involving themselves in until they get pregnant and forced to drop out of school.”
Clr Mnkandla said the community has tried to find a solution but the major problem was that most of the panners were aggressive and were not locals.
“We have resorted to public meetings for girls at school to be educated about the right to education and information on the use of contraceptives. Early sexual engagement also increases the risk of girls suffering cervical cancer which is one of the leading killer diseases, especially among women hence our children must be educated first about abstinence. It is very difficult for us, as the village we have appealed to the police but nothing concrete has been done. At night it is very dangerous to go out as the panners will be carrying dangerous weapons and making noise while shouting insults. We are living in fear,” he said.
He said most of the panners were reportedly from Binga, Kwekwe and Harare.
“The illegal gold panners are also destroying the environment. They are digging everywhere they think there is gold. They are digging everywhere in our backyards, even graves and we fear they are going to leave this place seriously degraded,” said the councillor.
Meanwhile, six schools in Bulawayo received mobile science equipment donated by Laboratory Equipment and Consumables (LEO BIO-TEC) as part of its Save Our Souls family strengthening programme. Babambeni, Godlwayo, Ingwegwe, and Ntshamathe primary schools each received a mobile laboratory worth US$2 500 while Magwegwe and Amhlophe High Schools each received protective clothing to use when conducting science experiments.