International Day of the girl is an opportunity for the global community to celebrate achievements that have been made towards gender equality and empowerment of the girl child. Girls are making headlines and contributing to the leadership discourse in spaces that were historically male dominated. The 2022 theme, Our Time Is Now, Our Rights Our Future emphasizes the urgency to intensify efforts that unlock opportunities for girls to holistically fulfill their aspirations. Investing in girls will contribute to the attainment of sustainable development by the year 2030.
As the world acclaims significant strides in promoting the rights of the girl child, #DayoftheGirl spotlights acute socio-economic and structural barriers that continue to perpetuate their discrimination and inequalities in society. The lives and well-being of girls are still being negatively affected by regressive social norms including religious customs and early marriages. Evidence shows that globally 12 million girls are married in childhood per year and a whopping 129 million are currently out of school. Early and forced marriages have exponentially robbed girls of their childhood and future. The girls who fall victim to early marriage face double jeopardy by being exposed to numerous health related risks such as cervical cancer, obstetric fistula, sexually transmitted diseases and even death. They are prone to poverty and overtly depend on their husbands for survival which increases their chances of facing domestic violence. Victims of early marriage face societal ridicule and have difficulties with re-entry into formal secondary education. Girls were not spared from the gendered impact of Covid 19 pandemic. The Covid 19 pandemic also compromised their sexual and reproductive health rights contributing to an increase in teen pregnancies. The repercussions of the pandemic if not addressed can impede the realization of rights for the girl child.
As an organization that promotes human rights, Legal Resources Foundation applauds the Constitutional Court’s judgment on raising the age of consent to 18 years of age. The constitutional court has, since its inception made progress in protecting the rights of children, especially girls who are most affected by child marriages and sexual exploitation. Despite these positive developments, the girl child remains vulnerable as shown by the case of Memory Machaya who passed away whilst giving birth in 2021 and most recently, Nokutenda Hwaramba who suffered the same fate in October 2022. These two cases are a reflection of the cases of child abuse and exploitation that are not being reported to relevant authorities.
We urge the Zimbabwean government, civil society organizations and the private sector to merge their efforts and increase investments towards the socio-economic empowerment of girls. The government of Zimbabwe must speed up the implementation of laws that protect children from sexual exploitation, this includes the execution of the Marriage Act which criminalizes the marriage of children below the age of 18 years. Implementation of the Marriage Act will contribute to the protection of girls.
The government must provide adequate health care and victim friendly support services so that victims feel protected. We call upon the government to promote quality education for girls so that they remain in school. Educating girls will make them live productively and reduce their chances of getting married at an early age. The government must introduce social protection programs to cushion girls from eventualities in times of emergencies and ensure the implementation of laws that protect children.
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LRF PROMOTING HUMAN RIGHTS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE