The Girl Child Network has intensified its efforts to empower girls through educational programmes that ensure they stay in school.
The Director for Girl Child Network, Edinah Masanga, said many girls were dropping out of school as a result of being pushed into early forced marriages or used as domestic workers.
“We have set up girl’s empowerment clubs in various schools throughout the country to create platforms where girls meet and discuss issues that affect them. The network also conducts extensive community-based awareness creation of laws and policies that protect the rights of women and children,” said Masanga. The girls-at-risk support network ensures that the girl child stays in school. In order to do this the network provides food, school fees, sanitary wear and other related needs for girls from economically disadvantaged families.
Masanga said they had managed to involve girls from as far as Binga and Chihota. “We have been getting positive feedback from the schools. You find that girls open up to each other and the fact that they stay in the same communities means they are bound to have first-hand information on cases of abuse,” she said.
The GCN director said they had taken the initiative to involve men in some of their programmes despite their main focus being on the girl child. “We invite men to some of our community discussions enlightening them about issues affecting girls and how they can be solved. Some of these cases of abuse happen out of ignorance because some people think that the moment a girl has breasts, she is ready for marriage,” she said.
But their efforts are often met with resistance from some sections of the Apostolic Church. “I think the government should come up with strict laws that bar the marrying of you girls. You find that from time to time members of the apostolic churches always come up with dreams that will be instructing them to marry young girls,” she added.
Masanga said Zimbabwe’s laws were failing to protect the girl child from rape and forced marriages, “The major challenge is with the justice system, which we feel is not doing any justice at all to the victims of rape. Many abusers are walking scot free, either on bail or acquitted due to lack of so-called evidence. This is because sometimes victims take time to report for fear of being victimised and through this delay vital evidence is lost,” she said.
She urged civil society and women’s organisation to work together in advocating for strict laws against perpetrators of all forms of abuse against girls. Between April 2011 and April 2012, GCN successfully assisted 1,522 victims of sexual abuse with the assistance of the Victim Friendly Unit.