NON-PROFIT organisations have sprung to the rescue of the girl child relocated to Arda Transau from Marange amid alarming school dropout and early child marriage cases.
The development comes following an investigation supported by the Information for Development Trust (IDT) — a non-profit outfit supporting the media to probe bad governance — unearthed high numbers of girls dropping out of school and an alarming number of primary school girls failing to advance to secondary level.
Many of the young girls fall victim to rape, impregnation or are forced into early marriages — all these crimes are perpetrated by gold panners operating in and around the relocation area.
It emerged during an earlier investigation that 440 children dropped out of school in the area between 2017 and 2021 with girls constituting nearly half of the dropouts.
According to statistics gathered from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Transau Secondary, which had an enrolment of 461 students, recorded a total of 60 dropout cases during the first term of this year. Of these 40 were girls.
The two primaries recorded no drop outs.
It was gathered then that most of the female students fall prey to gold panners that flooded gold rich rivers that closely meander along Arda Transau.
The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the villagers — hard pressed by abject poverty — rent out rooms to the gold panners. The young girls sell various wares to the panners and it is during such trade where they fall prey to the money-flashing panners.
This has attracted the interest of several NGOs fighting to protect and empower the girl child.
The Eastern Caucus (Teca), which operates in rural Manicaland, focusing on the most remote and marginalised communities, indicated that it has since prioritised Arda Transau as its next area of focus.
“Our organisation will definitely intervene (in Arda Transau),” Teca, which mostly operates in Bocha, Marange, said.
“We are hoping to scale sometime soon, and Arda Transau will be our next point of action. Much of what was happening in Arda Transau, we had limited information but we are scaling up in due time and expanding our work there,” the organisation added.
Another organisation called Shamwari yeMwanasikana (Friend of the Girl Child) also hinted that it will be expanding its work to cover the girl child in Arda having taken note of challenges experienced by the girl child in the area.
“Our organisation is likely to intervene (Arda Transau). Our advocacy initiatives ensure that we advocate for issues affecting girls in Zimbabwe,” Shamwari yeMwanasikana advocacy and influence coordinator Rudo Magwanyata said.
Magwanyata attributed the challenges faced by the girl child in Arda to an array of social ills that range from lack of resources to fund studies, child marriages and teenage pregnancies to poverty.
They also implored government to establish facilities that allow teen mothers to continue with their studies or pursue life empowering trainings and opportunities.
“The government should open up facilities where teen mothers can be accepted back to school and continue with their studies up to the level they want. In the same context, those who do not want to go back on the desk should be given some life changing and empowering training and opportunities so that they can take care of themselves independently,” recommended Teca Manica.
Both organisations said their primary concern in Arda Transau is to ensure that laws against child marriages are enforced while perpetrators are punished and rehabilitated.
They also indicated that assistance to enroll victims back to school is also essential as well as establishing empowerment projects for the girl child if resources permit.
Inquiries highlighted that Simukai Child Protection has run several similar programmes during the past five years in Arda, Odzi.
Simukai supported the community by enrolling back school children that had dropped out, raised awareness on sexual reproductive health and personal hygiene; treatment assistance and vocational training such as carpentry, dress-making, catering and establishment of nutritional gardens.
“Generally we discovered that most of the challenges faced in Arda Transau were mainly due to financial constraints. So the programmes were meant to empower the community,” Simukai said.
“We assisted directly and indirectly 85 to enroll back to school and about 15 underwent our vocational training programme.
“We identified those with background on a particular area of study and interest. Generally there were more girls (under the vocational program) than boys,” Simukai added, before it pointed out that the five-year programme came to an end last year.
The organisation indicated that they managed to empower a total of 144 households out of the 1 100 families relocated.
“The programme was good but limited in number of beneficiaries that we could assist,” it said. “We would also want other organisations or programmes to do with second chances of girls who dropped out, eloped but are back (home),” Simukai stated and further indicated that they currently have no funding to extend the programme.
Girls in Arda lamented that there are some organisations that usually come to support them but abruptly abandon the support midway.
Abishel Mushawatu (22) said she failed to write her Ordinary Level in 2016 after the NGO that was supporting her withdrew its financial assistance and she subsequently dropped out.
Though Mushawatu was to work as a house help to fund herself to Advanced Level where she attained six points, the majority of the girls have not been that lucky as they either eloped or got impregnated.
It is against this backdrop that the NGOs appealed for collective efforts from both the government and non-government organisations.
“We need to speak with one voice that ensures that the rights of the girl child are advocated for and she enjoys those rights,” Chifamba said.
Shamwari yeMwanasikana is currently advocating for the implementation of the Education Amendment Act, which makes provision for basic education for all and allows pregnant girls to enroll in school.
Furthermore, the government has introduced the Grant in Aid, which has seen school fees and levies being removed in rural and poor districts such as Buhera, Gokwe North, Binga, Mhondoro, Lupane and many others.
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education is of the position that Arda Transau can benefit from the facility.
Inquiries indicated that the three schools in Arda, namely Transau Secondary, Wellington and Chirasika Primary fees were ZW$7 572, ZW$3 300 and ZW$4 000 respectively. This translates to US$47, US$20 and US$25, respectively using the government official bank rate.
“We can’t afford those fees. Even if you inform your husband, it’s just for formality’s sake because we already know that they can’t afford since they are unemployed,” Idah Kambeni said.
Gokwe Chireya Member of Parliament (MP) and chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education Tonderayi Moyo said they recommended to government to embark on an Education Financing Model that removes payment of school fees and levies from all primary schools.
“I am happy that the Second Republic, under the leadership of President ED Mnangagwa, intends to embrace free basic state-funded education starting in 2023,” Moyo said. “In fact, free basic state-funded education is a panacea for mitigating school dropout cases. It is our hope as a committee that the State-funded education model can also be extended to secondary schools as well.”