COVID 19 induced social hurdles have triggered an upsurge in girl child school drop outs in rural peripheries, it has emerged.
A number of students did not come back to school when schools were given green light to open after a long COVID 19 induced holiday.
Most of the reasons why are linked to challenges caused by COVID 19 and the most affected are female students.
In a plenary session held at Samhutsa high school which constituted community leadership, school leadership, student representatives, community social welfare workers to map strategies to help the situation a number of challenges whose microcosm is the pandemic caused by COVID 19 were highlighted as root causes of the surge in school drop outs with the girl child being the major victim.
According to the local councillor, Agrippa Mayanga who took part in the plenary session, by increasing poverty COVID 19 made female students vulnerable to abuse since men take advantage of that to lure them into sexual relations which end in unwanted pregnancies and early marriages.
It was noted that most of the students who quitted school during or after the COVID 19 long holiday were young girls who either got married or dropped out after getting pregnant.
“Kushaya kunoita kuti vanasikana vasangane nemiedzo yakati kurei yevarume vanenge vachivanyengedza nemagifts (Poverty increase temptations of men seeking sexual favours from the girl child through extending gifts),” Mayanga said.
A worker from the nearby New Year’s Gift estate was arrested after an underage girl from Samhutsa High school eloped to him. The guy, Msindo Makuyana was reported to the police and brought before Chipinge magistrate Elizabeth Hanzi who invoked section 70 of criminal law (Codification and Reform) Act and charged him of sleeping with an under age girl.
The community social welfare worker, identified as Mai Chikwanda said COVID 19 led to job losses, inability to work, and loss of guardians in related dearths. Consequently many children are forced to go to school with empty tummies which causes them to develop a hostile attitude towards schooling.
She went on to say because of that some female students abandon school and decide to get married after being promised better life by men.
She however also mentioned that even boys were also forced out of school though at a lower rate. She said in their community scarcity during and soon after lock down, prematurely forced many students out of school to go and seek employment either as domestic workers (for girls) or as illegal miners (for boys).
“Nokuda kwenzara yakawedzera mudzimba nokuda kwelock down vamwe vana vakasiya chikoro kundoita vasikana vebasa vakomanawo vachindoita magweja (Due to lock down induced hunger female students left school to be domestic workers while boys became illegal miners)”, Mai Chikwanda said.
The issue of hunger as cause of increased school drop outs was also indirectly insinuated in Agrippa Mayanga’s contribution during the three hour session. Mayanga, who is the councillor of Ward 2, Chipingd West constituency acknowledged that local households were experiencing hunger.
“Introducing school feeding programme is one way of containing the challenge of increased school drop outs sezvo mune dzimwe dzimba mune nzara (since there is hunger in some households)”, Mayanga said.
The headmaster of Samhutsa High school Mr Nesbert Zaba, confirmed that the school experienced a sharp increase of female students who dropped out of school either because they decided to get married or they were forced into marriages because they had fallen pregnant.
“Yah the number of students who dropped out of school has increased since the inception of COVID 19 restrictions. Most of them are girls and the majority of them got married. Some went to their boy friends after realising that they were pregnant while others just decided to get married”, Zaba said.
A young community member who recently finished her ‘O’ levels, Lillian Mhlanga concurred that the increased number of school drop outs could be linked to household economics. Judging from experience, Mhlanga said extreme lack psychologically affects pupils and makes them feel out of place.
“Kushaya kunokonzeresawo nokuti kana uri mwana wechikoro ukashayawo zvine vamwe zvakaita seuniform chaiyo unoona kunge usingakwani pavari nechikoro chopedzisira chakubhowa (lack also causes increased drop outs. If a student lack requirements like school uniforms they feel out of place and will not enjoy coming to school”, Mhlanga said.
School Development Committee (SDC) chair, Nedson Makhuyana said COVID 19 changes such as toggled attendence has also made students to be partially engaged in school work giving them more time to engage in juvenile delinquency which culminate in early marriages and unwanted pregnancies.
“Rimwe dambudziko ngerekuti vana vedu avasi kuuya kuchikora zuwa ngezuwa. Saka mazuwa avanonga vakagara vanopedzisira vakuita misikazwa, mimba dzowanda vamwe votoroorwa (Another problem is that our children are not attending school everyday and in those days they will be out of school they misbehave and some get pregnant while others get married), said Makhuyana. – Zimbabwe Voice Reporter