Epworth youths fight child abuse Epworth Junior Council partnered young people in their community to conduct a cleanup campaign at Epworth police station yesterday, in commemoration of World Earth Day, Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22. Worldwide, various events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection.-Picture by Nicholas Bakili

Rumbidzai Ngwenya Features Writer
Epworth, a settlement located a few kilometres south-east of the capital, Harare, often evokes images of crime, drugs, prostitution and filth. It is a place where all sorts of drugs are found at almost every street corner.
A place where theft is prevalent that wet laundry sometimes disappears from the washing line in broad daylight.
At night people sleep with one eye open in fear of break-ins.

Rape cases are on the rise. It is not a safe place to raise a girl child. Parents always fear for the worst.
Prostitution is rampant. Epworth has become like the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah. In this suburb, a person can pay for sex for as little as twenty cents.

The picture has been vividly painted for a while that if one hears the word Epworth, images of an inhabitable suburb flash through the mind.

The stories about crime, drug abuse and prostitution are true.
The saddest part is how even young people have been lured into this lifestyle and it has seemingly become the norm.
Poverty has been highlighted as the major cause of this moral decay in Epworth.

Everybody is fighting for survival. Earning as little as $1 per day is a huge achievement for many, at least one can buy food for the day.

Girls as young as 12 years roam the dark streets of Epworth at night as prostitutes. They seem not to care about exposing themselves to the dangers associated with sex.
Some get pregnant, contract STIs and eventually drop out of school. The cycle of poverty then continues.
Young boys grow up very fast into adulthood and call themselves “hustlers.”

They sell anything there can lay hands on, as long as there is a willing buyer.
Drugs and stolen property have become easy money and many youngsters have turned to drug abuse.
Some parents have lost control of their own children who have gone wild.

It is a situation that requires intervention, or else there is no future to talk about in Epworth if children are the future.
To address all the threats facing children, Epworth Junior Council has taken up the challenge.
They could not wait any longer.

Lives of children matter.
They recently held a clean-up campaign at Epworth Police Station under the theme “Safeguarding the Rights of Children, our Collective Responsibility.”

They advocated for protection of children’s rights. According to the council, a lot needs to be done especially by law enforcers to protect young people from crime and other social vices.

Epworth Junior Council called for the protection of children’s rights and a clean-up campaign at the police station was a first step.

“Our major plea goes to the police who are the law enforcers,” said Hope Matimbe, the Junior Council’s spokesperson.
“We need their support or else child abusers will continue destroying children’s lives.”
They also engaged the community to sensitise it about children’s rights.

“We decided to do this clean-up campaign with community involvement because we all have a lot of work to do to protect children’s rights,” Matimbe said.

The community has become a dangerous place where everything goes and older people seem to turn a blind eye.
The people who should protect them have themselves become predators.

“Children are being exposed to so many harmful situations because no one is really looking at their lives.
“There are black spots and areas in our community where children are at a higher risk of being abused. There is a popular lodge where sexual exploitation is rampant. We need to stop this.”

There are so many lodges and places where child prostitution is rampant.
It was cases like these that the Junior Council wanted the police to look at and possibly make arrests.
Epworth need to do away with child sexual exploitation, early child marriages, drug and substance abuse and other forms of abuse that children face.

The Junior Council also called for the arrest of parents who play a role in child marriages.
“Children are forced into marriage at a young age by parents. This is a sad scenario and the arm of the law has to catch up with such parents,” said Tracey Mutopa, a member of the Junior Council.

“Parents should be protecting children not violating them. We are not going to rest until we clean up the whole of Epworth the same way we are cleaning this police station,” she said.
Suicide cases have also been reported.

Just recently two girls committed suicide after they got pregnant.
The Junior Council said more police camps were needed in Epworth as there were only a few and travelling costs were hindering the efficiency of crime reporting.

They also requested for platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook pages where cases could be anonymously reported.
Suggestion boxes would also be useful as some children cannot afford WhatsApp and Facebook.
The Junior Council with the support of the Epworth Local Board, swept the police station.

Children from all over Epworth as young as five came to join the clean-up and to make their voices heard.
For the local board, the campaign was also meant to reveal the children to the police.

Acting youth development officer for Ruwa/Epworth district, Darlington Pasipamire, who was present during the campaign said they wanted to create an environment where children were not afraid of the police.

“We think many cases are going unreported because children do not know where exactly to go,” he said.
“The intention is to make them not fear the police but rather to see them as accommodating and the right people to protect them.”

The campaign was supported by NGOs such as the Justice for Children (JCT) and Plan International.
Police have been working tirelessly to eradicate crime in Epworth. Evidently, during the day of the campaign many perpetrators were brought to the station.

More needs to be done to stop child abuse in the area. A clean-up campaign coupled with other programmes could help sensitise the local community about the importance of protecting children’s rights.

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