ABOUT 10 girls between the ages of 14 and 18 from one secondary school in Hwange District dropped out of school this term after they got married.
Matetsi Secondary School is located in a resettlement area almost halfway between Hwange and Victoria Falls.
School authorities have raised concern as seven of the girls failed to write their Ordinary Level examinations after their parents married them off.
One girl reportedly returned to write examinations after giving birth.
Two recent cases involve two Form One siblings aged 14 and 15 whose parents allegedly forced them into marriage after the older one fell pregnant.
Some members of the community said early child marriage and teenage pregnancy cases are common in Matetsi, with some of them perpetrated by parents who marry off their minor daughters for economic gains.
They advocated for the arrest of parents who force their children into early marriage.
The school’s development committee chairman, Mr Emmanuel Shoko, confirmed the incidents.
“It’s true and we are shocked as a community. We had a meeting with education officials on 30 September where the District Schools Inspector (DSI) Mr Germination Ncube tasked us to mobilise villagers and community leadership.
“We called for a meeting but only a few people turned up and we had to reschedule. We don’t know the cause of these early child marriages yet and we are keen on investigating. If these girls were boarders, we would blame the environment they live in but they are all from within the community which scares us as we suspect there could be something wrong in our homes,” said Mr Shoko.
Matetsi Ward Councillor Vulindlela Mhlanga attributed early child marriages in the area to moral decay.
“We’re preparing for a ward meeting with the DSI because we’re worried that while we’re busy building schools some people are abusing children willy-nilly. We’re still investigating but what we’re getting is that some cases are not reported.
“It’s worrying to have seven girls failing to write O-Level exams and some Form Ones getting married. Each community should have its values and as Matetsi I think we adopted a bad trend of abusing children which is affecting their education,” said Cllr Mhlanga.
A Hwange based civic rights organisation Buwalo Matalikilo Trust (BMT) initiated investigations into the cases after its officers noted the school dropouts.
BMT executive director Mrs Anna Mandizha-Ncube called for behaviour change among community members.
“As BMT we’re aware of school dropouts in Matetsi which were brought to our attention by our volunteer Gender Actions Teams (GATS). We reported some of the cases to the police and we believe investigations are in progress. We have also engaged stakeholders because these early child marriages have become worrisome and shocking,” said Mrs Mandizha-Ncube.
Her organisation has been doing awareness programmes such as ‘Changing the River’s Flow for Young People, Asikhulume/Let’s Speak and Rights Action and Accountability’ aimed at concientising the community about gender-based violence and rights abuses.
“This issue needs urgent attention. We will continue campaigning against early child marriages and encouraging communities to report such cases. The community needs a serious paradigm shift on how it addresses these issues of gender-based violence because we have noticed a culture of concealing cases. It’s our plea then to all stakeholders for serious holistic intervention,” said Mrs Mandizha-Ncube.
Hwange DSI Mr Ncube said the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is investigating the issue.
“We heard about school dropouts and visited Matetsi to investigate. We still have to speak to the community because we haven’t established the root cause.
“We noted that some kids just disappeared while some got pregnant and are married hence the need to speak to the community so we help each other. School authorities cannot shape these children alone without the input of parents who we expect should value their children’s education,” he said.