MUDZI has one of the highest prevalence of Early and Unintended Pregnancies (EUPs) and early child marriages owing to a plethora of factors chief among them being poverty, peer pressure and a lack of education.
Girls within the age range of 15-17 constitute a large number of girls dropping out of school and those getting married in Mudzi. Owing to its proximity to the boarder and the expansion of mining activities in the area, high cases of Early Unintended Pregnancies and early child marriages continue to be recorded despite efforts by various organisations to engage and educate communities on the dangers associated with EUPs and early marriages.
Teenage pregnancies or EUPs amongst other risk factors, has been identified as one of the leading cause of Obstetric Fistula, a medical condition in which a hole develops in the birth canal as a result of childbirth. By letting early unintended pregnancies flourish in communities, governments stand to lose huge financial resources towards addressing Fistula and other health woes associated with falling pregnant early before the body has fully matured.
Traditional leaders however believe they have the keys to ending Early Unintended Pregnancies and should be given the right tools and a conducive environment to prove their mantle. To get an insight on how traditional leaders could play a part in ending EUPs, our Editor Michael Gwarisa (MG) traveled to Mudzi, a major hotspot for EUPs and child marriages where he spoke at length with Headman Benjamin Makosa (Headman BM), under Chief Nyakuchena on the subject.
MG: Could you give a brief background on the issues of Early Unintended Pregnancies and early marriages in this area?
Headman BM: I would say before the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) brought their Youth Fridley centre here, we used to record very high numbers of early pregnancies and early marriages but the numbers have since reduced. With continued information sharing and education, some have grasped the issues and now understand the risks but many are yet to comprehend the issues around early marriages and early unintended pregnancies.
MG: What is the situation like at the moment in terms of early child marriages and EUPs?
Headman BM: In the communities we are in, we still have high cases of early child marriages teenage pregnancies. More and more young girls are eloping and dropping out of school and this is a worrisome trend.
MG: What do you think needs to be done to reduce this increasing burden of EUPs and early marriages?
Headman BM: It is my wish as a traditional leader that more education and information around the subject of EUPs be disseminated. I also call upon more government ministries to join hands with the ministry of health, education and that of gender in removing this burden from our societies. This is a serious issue and we need to unite and work together.
MG: What is your role as traditional leaders currently in the fight against EUPs and early marriages?
Headman BM: As chiefs and headmen, there is a law which was put in place by government where we were mandated to communicate to our subjects on the dangers and legal repercussions associated with marrying off a child before the right age. In these villages, even Kraal heads are now teaching their people on the dangers of EUPs and early pregnancies but it’s not enough, more needs to be done.
MG: Do think the powers you were given by government are enough to address the problem at hand?
Headman BM: Well, it terms of communicating i would say communities now know about the issues of EUPs and child marriages but I think we are still a long way to go and as I said before, we are still recording these cases in their high numbers, it’s a sign that we need to move a gear up.
MG: Do you think the police are doing enough in terms of addressing cases of early child marriages in these communities?
Headman BM: The police are our biggest let down in this fight. Yes we have the police around here and at times we report cases of underage girls who would have been impregnated. However, villagers are losing hope in the police because whenever they report such cases, the perpetrators are held in police custody for a short while before they are released back into the communities. This has killed the spirit of fighting EUPs and child marriages in the area. The villagers are yet to witness any perpetrator who has been locked up for committing such crimes that’s why there is not much change. No one is willing to report anymore.
MG: How do you think this issues can be resolved and how can police be more involved in the fight against EUPs?
Headman BM: Our wish is that government should come up with a law which severely punishes offenders. This will send a strong message even to would be perpetrators. This is the only way we could win this battle.
MG: As chiefs and traditional leaders, do you think government should grant you arresting powers especially for sex offenders and those who marry underage girls?
Headman BM: Indeed, we would gladly want such powers conferred us. If only and only we could get such powers, the issue of early unintended pregnancies, early child marriages and rape will be a thing of the past. We might have powers already but those powers are not enough, we need punitive powers over these cases so that we save the future of the girl child. An early and unintended pregnancy has repercussions, girls might find it hard to get readmitted in schools and also the fear of stigma will act against such thoughts.
MG: What would you say are the leading causes of early child marriages and unintended pregnancies around here?
Headman BM: It’s a plethora of issues. I would say parents are also to blame for the rise in early marriages among underage girls in these parts. They have become so greedy to the extent that they sale their underage girls into marriage before they are even ready. Some girls are even forced to drop out of school just become brides. Secondly, this place is now swarming with Makorokoza (gold panners) and they have money. These young girls are easily lured by the United States Dollar and they can’t resist it. The 15 and 17 year olds are getting married and falling pregnant but no one is reporting this.
MG: Government has crafted new laws that will see even girls who would have fallen pregnant getting a second chance in school so as to complete their academic journey. What is your take on such a move by government?
Headman BM: A few parents appreciate that even after falling pregnant, a girl can be readmitted in school and excel in life. I think the proposed law is progressive and could go a long way in empowering the girl child.