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Girl child rape cases soaring

Tamary Chikiwa

in BULAWAYO

IN AN alarming development, nearly 5 000 teenage girls were impregnated in the first five weeks of this year alone.

This comes as police have revealed that more than 2 000 minors below the age of 18 were reported to have been raped around the country last year.

Presenting a report before Parliament this week, Women’s Affairs minister, Sithembiso Nyoni, said police had reported nearly 5 000 teenage pregnancies between January and early February this year.

“Disturbing are cases of teenage pregnancies from across all provinces in the country.

“Cases recorded from January to February 5, 2021 show that a total of 4 959 got impregnated in such a short period and this means that nearly 5 000 of our girls risk losing their educational opportunities if they don’t pursue re-admission,” she said.

Nyoni also said the majority of the cases were reported in Mashonaland Central (4 475), with Matabeleland South accounting for 290 and Midlands 66.

The three provinces have large populations of artisanal miners who deal in precious minerals that include gold and diamonds.

Bulawayo and Harare were the least affected by the rape and early pregnancy scourge, with the capital reporting zero cases and the City of Kings having only one case.

Nyoni said of the affected teenagers, 1 774 were in matrimonial unions before reaching the legal marriage age of 18 years. The legal age for consent to sex in the country is 16.

“They have lost opportunities and have also become vulnerable to other forms of violence and assault, which include economic and emotional abuse,” she said.

Meanwhile, the police Victim Friendly Unit — which deals with cases of sexual assault — dealt with 1 222 cases of rape in the third quarter of last year, and 1 274 cases in the fourth quarter countrywide.

“These are alarming figures of rape among teenage girls. A total of 836 girls … were raped in the period October to December 2019. In the same period in 2020, 900 girls were raped and these were only the reported cases.

“We still grapple to understand the real magnitude in view of unreported cases,” Nyoni further told Parliament.

She said the Covid-19-induced lockdown had seen a horrifying surge in rape cases and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV).

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, we acknowledge that this is a time of great anxiety, uncertainty and stress for many, as normal life routines are changed.

“Women and girls, who constitute the greater percentage of GBV survivors, find themselves trapped in homes with abusive fathers, brothers and family members with limited access to protection and support services,” Nyoni said.

She added that the government was committed to scaling up community level awareness campaigns, with the aim to encourage people to report cases — especially where minors were the victims.

“The community has to know that it is a criminal offence to withhold such information, as well as failure to report the abuse and rape of minors,” Nyoni said further.

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