Matabeleland children at risk of abuse

Hunger and the migration of parents to neighbouring countries has led to schoolchildren in Matabeleland province being vulnerable to abuse, according to the acting president of the Zimbabwe Schools Development Association, Xolisani Dlamini.

Working to create protective environments for children – Tapfumanei Kusemwa.
Working to create protective environments for children – Tapfumanei Kusemwa.

Dlamini said that children from the region were more susceptible to abuse than other children because of a number of challenges facing the region.

“We have realised that schoolchildren in Matabeleland are vulnerable to abuse because of parents’ migrating, hunger, poor sanitation and poor school infrastructure and facilities,” said Dlamini in an interview with The Zimbabwean.

Dlamini said that many parents had left for Botswana or South Africa, leaving many families headed by children. “School children are being sexually abused in order to get money to pay school fees and buy food. Most families in the province are headed by children who cannot take care of the family’s day-to-day needs. This development has apparently created a lot of problems among our children,” said Dlamini.

The ZSDA boss also expressed concern at the mushrooming of what he described as “bush” secondary boarding schools in the province, which he said was fuelling prostitution among schoolchildren.

“A lot of schoolchildren travel more than 20km to the nearest school. To avoid the long distances, some children end up seeking accommodation in growth points and business centres near schools. In many cases, these children eventually end up indulging in illicit activities to raise money for rent and food. Government should consider the idea of building more schools in the province,” he said.

Bulawayo provincial education director Dan Moyo concurred with Dlamini, adding that the closure of Bulawayo’s industries had compounded the risk to schoolchildren in the province.

“A lot of children in Bulawayo are no longer attending school because their parents have been forced out of employment due to company closures. Some children are indulging in nefarious activities to raise school fees,” said Moyo.

Tapfumanei Kusemwa, a counter human-trafficking officer with the International Organisation for Migration, said his organisation was committed to promoting the inclusion and positive engagement of vulnerable children.

“Matabeleland province is one of the regions where human trafficking is high. IOM has come up with projects such as water and sanitation, classroom block rehabilitation and school fencing as a way of promoting a protective school environment for schoolchildren,” said Kusemwa. Kusemwa said schools that had benefited under this programme included Hyde Park secondary school in Umguza and St Peter’s secondary school in Khami.

According to the ministry of primary and secondary education, 47 girls dropped out of school in Matabeleland South last year due to pregnancy.

Gwanda high school topped the list, with 10 girls falling pregnant.

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