… chiramu (sexual dalliance) contributing
By Perseverance Javangwe
Child sexual abuse has become a major concern in Zimbabwe with Gokwe South witnessing a high prevalence of rape cases in recent weeks.
This was revealed by Kennedy Madekutsikwa of the Ministry of Justice Prosecution Department during a citizen-duty bearer engagement meeting held by the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) in Gokwe.
Speaking during the meeting Madekutsikwa said he was concerned with the high prevalence of rape cases in Gokwe which continue to rise at an alarming rate.
“…of the twenty cases that I am handling at the moment it is worrying that eighteen of them are rape cases,” he said.
The nature, causes and consequences of rape cases in Gokwe South has been explored through a survey conducted by ZHOCD’s Programmes Manager Philemon Handinahama Hwami.
“Children of school going age are not attending school due to poverty and also lack of value in education for some of them. When these young girls are not going t school they are at risk of being sexually abused. In another instance a number of girls are herding cattle in the forests and this is where some are being raped. This is where they meet male adults herding cattle and these male adults will take advantage of the young girls.
“Religious groups are marrying of young girls to church leaders. We have indigenous churches which tend to marry of young girls to senior church leaders. This is where child marriages have been exposed. Parents may not consent to that but because of the church values the girls end up falling prey to the church leaders. Sometimes when girls report issues troubling them they approach the church system and these systems tend to cover up for the church leaders.
“The Shangwe Culture also tends to promote polygamy and young girls are then forced into these polygamous marriages hence the cases of rape.
“Children are left in the custody of relatives and these relatives also abuse them. A number of husbands in Gokwe South are leaving the country in search of greener pastures either locally or outside the country. Their wives might end up following too leaving children in the custody of relatives then rape them. These type of cases are a bit high. In some instances we discovered that some parents are going for gold panning in some towns and leave their children for long periods with relatives and they get abused. There is too much trust by some families who live their children with neighbors and friends by some, this has also resulted in the sexual abuse of these children.
“There is also an issue of the customary practice of chiramu (sexual dalliance) where the brother-in-law (babamukuru) enjoys casual romantic and sexual relationship with his wife’s younger sister or niece (muramu). This also expose young girls to risks such as rape resulting in unwanted pregnancies,” he said.
Over the past few decades Zimbabwe has gone through an unprecedented economic struggle, fewer resources are being channeled towards child protection leading to a decline in standards of living for children. Bishop Edimond Munengiwa of the Apostolic Church of Zimbabwe who is based in Gawa, Gokwe South added that poverty has exposed the girl child. He said due to poverty girls in primary schools are exposed to sexual abuse.
“Mutsvakurudzo dzatakaita takawona kuti mudzimba mune nhamo (poverty is the leading cause from what we gathered). When one girl sees her friends buying goodies she wants to follow suit and her friends will advice her to use the body and get money. At home she cannot get some money because the parents are incapacitated. So our girls end up chasing after man and do not consider age but money only and end up being abused. This is why girls in grades 5, 6, 7 are being raped and we have witnessed such cases in our villages.
Ratidzai Sunganayi the Ministry of Youth Officer in Gokwe District stated that parents should play a parental role in fighting for the rights of the girl child and avoid shunning rape case issues because of money or relations.
“…some parents are illiterate in Gokwe and are to blame because they over trust strangers with their girl child trusting vakomana vemombe (cattle herders) or babamunini or babamukuru murume wasisi (relatives). Some of the rape cases are unreported because some parents shun their children from speaking the truth trying to avoid destroying their relationships with the relative who have abused their child. Such parents end up forcing their children to get married to the abuser. Such parents value wealth over the affairs of their children and this is disheartening. Some of the girls who are forced into these marriages might be dumped after reaching 18years of age.
“Another thing that we have discovered is that the youths are idle. They are unemployed and have nothing to do and they end up abusing drugs, and also engaging in sexual activities resulting in them abusing some girls,” said Sunganayi.
Some sectors of the society have taken the blame on the girls for the type of dressing that they wear as a cause for abuse. However, Hwami refuted this claiming by stating that there is need for man to be responsible for their actions.
“I don’t buy to the issue of dressing. In my own view we will be running away from the fact that man should be responsible for their actions. When we say children are failing to dress properly we are actually saying those children are wrong. We are actually saying the rapist is not to blame. We can’t base on that line of thinking. I have never had of anyone convicted for raping children at the beach in UK, America etc where people are nearly naked. Why don’t they do that to people who are almost naked? But it is only here, why Gokwe in particular? Is it the only place with girls who can not dress properly?” asked Hwami.
Meanwhile Singanayi stated that there is need for community awareness on children’s rights and also empowering youths with income generating activities to avoid idleness and unemployment.
“There is need to capacitate the community members through Human Rights workshops educating them on child rights and and all the other rights that matter. Because vamwe vabereki unotoshamisika kana mwana akati business person baba John vandibata chibharo, wotoona mubereki achifara achito manikidza mwana kuti enda unoita mukadzi wechi 4 or 5 (it’s disheartening when children report rape cases to their parents and the parents are actually happy when the perpetrator is a business person. Those parents end up forcing the child to get married there even if the child becomes the fourth or fifth wife).
“We also need to Empower youths through sport arts and income generating projects funding and assistance in market accessibility like what UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) tried to introduce at Machakata area also ILO (International Labor Organisation) at Mapfumo area,” she said.
The protection of children from all forms of violence is a fundamental right enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child. The inclusion of a specific target (SDG 16.2) in the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development to end all forms of violence against children gives renewed impetus towards the realisation of the right to live free from fear, neglect, abuse and exploitation. Therefore, community leaders, teachers, mothers and fathers are the front line in the fight against child abuse, they should make sure that child abuse in their communities is not going to be stomached because this may shelter perpetrators.