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In Hwange, girls of school going age fell pregnant as a result of idle minds during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Image by Graphic Online
COVID-19 may be gone but in Hwange, the effects of the extended lockdowns are visible—young girls are now mothers, and school dropouts have spiked.
HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — A baby with a stunted growth cries uncontrollably as she refuses to be spoon fed. Nandi Dube (17) struggles to feed her one year and six months old baby. Nandi got pregnant during the height of COVID-19 and her life changed drastically. Every morning, she regrets the time she spent with her boyfriend during the COVID-19 induced lockdowns.
“I had nothing to do, I spent the majority of my time at my boyfriend’s place. His parents had moved to the rural areas. We had unprotected sex several times and now I have a baby,” says Dube.
Dube says besides spending time with her boyfriend, she spent most of her time on social media and skipped online classes. Most schools conducted lessons on WhatsApp, a cheap messaging platform used by a majority of Zimbabwe.
“I did not have time to participate in online classes which were conducted by our school,” narrates Dube as she regrets the time she wasted. “Besides, online learning was something new to me and everyone around.”
Zimbabwe’s central government revealed in a recent report that 5000 teenage girls became pregnant and about 1800 entered early marriages during the same period when COVID-19 was at its heights in 2021. According to a research conducted by civil society organisations in Hwange, a number of teenagers were greatly affected by the impact of COVID-19 due to idle minds.
“During the height of COVID-19, there was nothing to do for the youths, COVID-19 suspended everything school included. Youths were desperately looking for something to entertain them and occupy their minds hence indulging in sexual activities and drug abuse,” says Catherine Madondo from Multiple Therapy Trust, a civil society organisation based in Hwange.
Despite the introduction of radio lessons during the pandemic, Hwange recorded an increase of school drop outs. Image by UNPF
Madondo says the economic situation which negatively affected the source of income of their parents left the youngsters vulnerable to sexual abuse and early unwanted marriages.
“Many girls were victims of COVID-19 effects, girls of school going age were spending much time with Truck drivers exposing them to diseases such as HIV. The economic situation forced their parents to relocate to rural areas leaving them vulnerable to sex predators.”
Catherine Madondo, member of Multiple Trust
According to Plan International, currently 31% of girls under the age of 18 are married and of these, 4% were married while they were under 15 years.
Although the United Nations Population Fund has been helping to ensure Zimbabwe’s children have online and radio lessons during the COVID-19 lockdowns, there has been a notable increase of school drop outs mostly in Hwange rural schools.
Never Nyahunzvi, the Matabeleland North Province Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) representative, says teenage pregnancy, high rate of school dropouts and drug abuse were some of the effects of COVID-19 in Hwange district.
“As Matabeleland North Province we are already at disadvantage due to lack of teachers, so the learners even took advantage of COVID-19 and impregnated each other. If we zero in to Hwange district, the district has limited teachers and recorded zero pass rate last year.”
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