The world, Zimbabwe included, is calling for an end to Gender Based Violence against women and girls.
Not only have we had messages in every possible media outlet, almost everyone has been talking about it.
Violence against women and girls remains the most pervasive human rights violation around the world and this is not only physical, it can be sexual, psychological, emotional and financial violations, among others.
According to statistics, one in every three women aged 15 to 49 in Zimbabwe has experienced physical violence and about 1 in 4 women has experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.
But the big elephant in the room this year is the disturbing cases of sexual abuse of young girls that are coming out in the open.
Just last year, there was a public outcry when 14-year-old Anna Machaya died during child birth at an apostolic sect shrine in Marange.
Of course, everyone was angry and disgusted, but that did not stop the next perpetrator from sexually abusing 15-year-old Nokutenda Hwaramba, who also died during childbirth in similar circumstances.
When it seemed the noise had died down, more cases started coming out.
On October 30, the country woke up to the story of a pregnant nine-year-old girl from Tsholotsho. This little girl is now a mother.
Fast forward a few weeks later, another eight-year-old Bindura girl is pregnant.
What a shocker!
These are just a few of the sexual abuse cases that have been reported.
However, the reported cases are just a drop in the ocean considering that there may be many more cases that are being swept under the carpet.
Many young girls who have been raped have remained silent or in the most unfortunate cases, died in silence. They have been buried and while the perpetrators continue to roam the streets looking for their next target.
With most of these cases of sexual abuse against young girls, the perpetrator is almost always the one person meant to be protecting them; the father, brother, neighbour, cousin, uncle or the grandfather.
How sad that even boys as young as 11 are raping their sisters and relatives.
What kind of monsters is society breeding?
If there is no immediate action, these kids will grow up and be the kind of men who see a small girl as the perfect sexual partner for themselves.
They will see these little girls and abuse them. And they will not stop until the law catches up with them or until another young girl dies while giving birth to their child.
Long ago, the elders would say “it takes a village to raise a child”.
Of course, that did not mean that the village was literally responsible for raising your child. It meant the community was responsible for looking after the child, making sure they are safe, learn important life lessons, such as respecting their elders and demonstrating proper manners.
But nowadays, that village is full of monsters who look at a nine-year-old and see a mature woman.
The village looks away when a child is raped by an old man and claim it is part of their culture or religion.
The community keeps quiet until another child dies while labouring to give life.
And it really needs to stop.
During the commemorations of the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV, it is high time to call out these paedophiles.
The theme for this year’s campaign “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls” aptly sums up what action needs to be taken.
It is time for everyone to unite for the common purpose of protecting these young girls.
Not only is it wasting time waiting for someone else to put a stop to this scourge, people are literally watching as their futures are being destroyed.
Young girls are reaching puberty early because of many reasons, but this does not mean that their bodies are ready for sexual intimacy, let alone pregnancy.
At any age, pregnancy can lead to all sorts of life-threatening conditions.
Carrying a baby to full term carries higher pregnancy-related risks for a teenager or child than it would for an adult.
The aftermath of rape also involves different acute and chronic physical and psychological effects. According to experts, victims of extremely violent rape, or those who were assaulted repeatedly or at a very young age, may need treatment for the rest of their lives.
A lot has been happening in terms of responding to this challenge of child sexual abuse and other issues.
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission recently launched a national inquiry on sexual exploitation and abuse of young girls in Zimbabwe and the preliminary findings, which were presented this week identified hotspots for child marriages and sexual exploitation in various districts across the country.
According to the report, the main factors contributing towards child marriages and sexual exploitation included illegal gold panners who lure young girls by buying them ‘nice things’, tobacco farmers, practices such as “Gule wankulu” in former commercial farming areas-compounds, peer pressure as girls compete to get married and have children, greediness by parents who view a girl child as a commodity that can be traded for money and material things.
While these are just a few of the reasons behind child sexual exploitation, there is definitely more that is happening in communities affecting the girl child.
President of the Senate Mabel Chinomona, speaking at the dialogue session in commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism this week highlighted the need to protect children from sexual predators.
“One of the worst and cruellest form of violence against the girl child is child marriage. A minor cannot give consent to either sex or marriage. Therefore, child marriage should be called what it is, it is forced marriage. It violates the rights of underage girls to play like other kids, education, and health,” she said.
Fortunately, Zimbabwe now has many policies that seek to protect the girl child.
The country has prioritised children’s rights and adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child and various laws have been passed in recent years which protect children.
Children’s rights are now set out in section 19 of the Constitution which clearly sets out that the State must adopt policies and measures to ensure that in matters relating to children, the best interests of the children concerned are paramount.
The Children’s Act [Chapter 5:06] provides for the general welfare of children including protection from abuse while the new Marriage Act has banned marriage of anyone below 18 years.
“All the same, more still needs to be done in terms of mandatory sentences relating to child marriages and cases of sexual offences and rape,” the President of the Senate added.
Time to Act
Everyone can play their part and do the following:
◆ Do not protect abusers, report them!
◆ Challenge cultural practices that perpetuate child sexual abuse and gender inequalities.
◆ Teach children the value of respecting themselves and the next person, it might help them in future.
◆ Protect children from exposure to violence and harmful content on the internet and social media.
The next 11 days should make a difference.
As a conclusion to the 16 days of activism, everyone should start speaking out against child sexual abuse.
Every man, woman and boy should stand up and fight for our young girls.
It is time to return to these children their right to being children.
They should enjoy that right and adults should be there to watch them grow.
Oh what a joy it would be to have a Zimbabwe free of child molesters.
What a joy it would be to see children being children.
They will thank us one day!!