Interplay of Covid-19 and Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM) in rural Zimbabwe: Urging the Government of Zimbabwe and its Civic Society partners to sustain social accountability in addressing CEFM during acute and recovery phases of COVID-19

Introduction

The contagious Covid-19 is a multidimensional phenomenon and an existential crisis in 2021. The pandemic has far-reaching and long-term effects on the adolescent girls who are exposed to Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM). Globally, well-founded evidence revealed that, 1 in 5 girls are married under the age of 18 years.

In the Zimbabwean context, about 34% of girls are married before the age of 18 years whilst 5% are married before their 15th birthday. Major causes for CEFM are wide-ranging, however, projections stated that numbers are intensifying because of the surging Covid-19 pandemic.

At the core of the growing statistical figures are alarming fears on the possible gross subversion of girl child’s rights, welfare and security. Their vulnerability is worse when exposed to heightened risks of CEFM which may lead to unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal complications, including obstetric fistulas (vaginal and anal ruptures). CEFM also exposes girls to all other forms of violence against girls (VAG) and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) – including HIV and AIDS, and are at risk of chronic anaemia and obesity.

This brief analyses the projections of Covid-19 on CEFM in Zimbabwe’s countryside. Ideally, though rural areas are not the ‘hot spots’ of Covid-19, they are equally exposed to direct and indirect multi-layered impacts of the pandemic. Statistics extracted from the Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS, 2019) showed the following:

  1. 5% of girls are married before 15 (Urban: 2% vs. Rural: 21%)
  2. 34% married before 18 (Urban 8% vs. Rural 44%).

Statistical expressions indicate that, CEFM are rampant in the rural areas compared to growth points, towns and metropolitan cities. Practices of CEFM is a common harmful social practice which used in coping and adapting to rapid onset disasters like droughts and Covid-19 alike.

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Source: Tariro Youth Development Trust