By Features Writer Rutendo Mapfumo.
A baby with a stunted growth cries uncontrollably as she refuses to be spoon fed. Thelma Mudimba- (17) not her real name-struggles to feed her one year and six months old baby. Nandi got pregnant during the height of COVID 19 and her life changed drastically. Every morning, she regrets the time she spent with her boyfriend during the COVID -19 induced lockdowns.
“I had nothing to do, I spent the majority of my time at the boyfriend’s place who was alone, his parents had moved to the rural areas. We had unprotected sex several times and now I have a baby girl,” says Mudimba.
“Besides spending time with my boyfriend, I would spend most of my time on social media and I really had no time to attend to the online lessons which were conducted by our school. Online lessons were something new to me and that’s why I was not really keen on them, hence I diverted my attention to social media. I spent most of my time catching with my friends on social media,” narrated Mudimba as she regrets the time she wasted.
The government revealed that 5,000 teenage girls became pregnant in January and February and about 1,800 entered early marriages during the same period when COVID -19 was at its heights in 2021.
According to research by the Civil Society Organisation in Hwange, a number of teenagers were greatly affected by the impact of COVID -19 due to idle minds.
Catherine Madondo from Multiple Therapy Trust, a Civil Society Organisation based in Hwange, revealed that most of the teenagers in Hwange had idle minds during the COVID -19 pandemic.
“In our research and awareness campaigns we noted that the idle minds of Hwange youths are contributing immensely to teenage pregnancies and drug use among the youths.
“During the heights of COVID-19, there was nothing to do for the youths, COVID -19 paused everything and school included, the youths were desperately looking for something to entertain them and occupy their minds hence indulging in sexual activities and drug abuse,” says Madondo.
She indicated that the economic situation which negatively affected the source of income of their parents left the youngsters vulnerable to sexual abuse and early unwanted marriages.
“Many girls were victims of COVID-19 effects, girls of school going age were spending much time with Truck drivers exposing them to other diseases such as HIV. The economic situation which forced their parents to relocate to rural areas leaving them vulnerable to sex predators,” says Madondo.
According to Plan International, currently 31 percent of girls under the age of 18 are married and of these, four percent were married under 15 years of age.
Although the United Nations Population Fund has been helping to ensure Zimbabwe’s children have online and radio lessons during the COVID-19 lockdowns, there has been a notable increase of school drop outs mostly in Hwange rural schools.
“We once recorded 16 pregnancies and school drop outs from one school in Dete during COVID -19,” says Madondo.
Meanwhile Never Nyahunzvi the Matebeleland North Province Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) representative echoed similar sentiments saying teenage pregnancy, high rate of school dropouts and drug abuse were some of the effects of COVID-19 in Hwange district.
“Research from PTUZ show that one of the reason why we have so much teenage pregnancy a, school dropouts and drug abuse is because there has been minimum supervision from parents and teachers. Some learners wanted to learn and be busy, yet others were going out of their homes pretending to be busy learning while in reality were misbehaving. This misbehaviour later resulted in a lot of pregnancies,” says Nyahunzvi.
Nyahunzvi further revealed that the dropping out of learners automatically affected the enrolment programmes in schools and staff establishments in schools.
“So having students going on maternity affects staff establishment as well. There is a new directive which says that when the girl student is impregnated by another student at the school, both learners are sent home, and we had such cases in Hwange district where both the mother and the father of the unborn baby had to drop out of school,” he says.
“As Matebeleland North Province we are already at a disadvantage due to lack of teachers, so the learners even took advantage of COVID -19 and impregnated each other. If we zero into Hwange district, the district has limited teachers and recorded zero pass rate last year.”
Nyahunzvi revealed that there are schools in Hwange with learners who are into drug abuse and the cases still go unnoticed due to minimum supervision of learners.