By Sofia Mapuranga
Chitungwiza-Tapiwa Nguwo is a two year old girl, whose instinct to explore is at its peak.
Growing up in a community that spends over two months without water poses a health threat to the minor who risks contracting diseases such as typhoid and diarrhoea.
For Nguwo’s mother, Marvellous Pembamoyo (32), her worry is not only the unavailability of water in her community but the ripple effects of the problem on her family’s social life.
She is more concerned with her deaf teenage daughter, whom she described as a ‘reserved and quiet’ girl who is vulnerable to abuse.
Pembamoyo said because of the magnitude of water woes in Unit J, Seke, where the community has not received a drop for the past eight weeks, the family had no option but to ask their daughter to join the rest of the family members in looking for the precious liquid.
“The boys take advantage of her condition to flirt and I fear what will happen to her if she is alone with such company,” said Pembamoyo.
Florence Garabha (36) had a different story to tell.
“My teen girls spend over six hours at the nearby borehole in the queue and my fears were confirmed when I found out that one of my daughters engaged in sex when I sent her to the borehole,” she said.
Hesler Muronga (15) told of how three teen boys had circled her after they quarreled over who was first in the queue around nine in the evening.
She said after being in the queue for over five hours, she confronted the boys who kept on getting more and more buckets and pumping water while she had not fetched a single bucket.
“Instead of discussing the issue at hand, the boys started touching me, one of them touched my breasts and the other one my buttocks. When I realized their intentions, I screamed and that is when some of the people in the queue came to my rescue,” she said revealing that she now had reservations with fetching water at night.
A councilor who spoke on condition of anonymity said there were men who were taking advantage of the water woes to advance love proposals to girls and women.
“Obviously in any crisis, women and girls are the worst affected because there are people who are in the habit of advancing their sexual intentions,” he said adding that there was talk in his constituency of a girl who had been sexually harassed at the borehole.
The councilor called on parents to ensure that girls moved in groups and avoid sending them to the borehole at night.
One resident however said because of the magnitude of the problem, families had no option but to send the girls to fetch water.
“The environment promotes early sexual debut. Girls should not be sent to such places but we have no choice,” said Dananai Hungwe.
She said because there were boys who enjoyed taking advantage of girls, teenagers ended up engaging in sexual activities.
Hungwe revealed that her 17-year old daughter had been impregnated by a 17-year old boy and the duo had confirmed engaging in sex when they were sent to fetch water at night.
A 16 year old girl from Unit D in Seke alleged that one of the men who controls the queue at the nearby borehole had proposed love to her promising that she would be priviledged to be the ‘shef’s girlfriend and she would not stand in the queue.
Sustainable Development Goal 6 commits the Zimbabwean government to provide clean and safe water and sanitation for all.
While the SDGs are a non binding framework to coordinate global development efforts over the next 15 years, the idea is to keep the efforts of governments, development partners, foundations, banks and civil society organizations including communities moving in the same direction said a legal expert from the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, who could not be identified on the basis of protocol.
Marvellous Khumalo, the Director of Chitungwiza Residents Trust (Chitrest), notes that while the dire water situation forced many families to rely on water from unsafe sources such as wells and boreholes, those in need of water walked long distances for it.
“The deteriorating water situation has left many women and girls in the town with limited time as in most instances they are now forced to abandon their economically productive chores for the scarce liquid,” he said adding that the unavailability of water placed women and girls at risk of other social ills including abuse.
The Chitungwiza Community Development Network (CCDN) Director, Eddington Shayanowako emphasizes citizen engagement as a solution to addressing some of the challenges affecting women and girls.
Through the Zimbabwe United Nations Development Assistance Framework (ZUNDAF) 2016- 2020 Report, government pledged to assist and create an environment that promotes and ensures that key public sector institutions mobilize, manage and account for resources effectively for quality service delivery.
In the Social Service Delivery cluster, one of the expected outcomes is to ensure that key institutions provide quality and equitable basic social services to citizens including children.
Labour and Social Welfare minister, Prisca Mupfumira says government is working with other UN Agencies including UNICEF in programmes that ensure that girls’ rights are upheld.
“We want girls to grow up in an environment that promotes and guarantees that they realize their full potential and protects them from all forms of exploitation,” says Mupfumira.
Zimbabwe joined the AU Campaign to end child marriages in mid-2015. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development with support from UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNFPA, the Child Rights and Women’s Rights Coalitions has been working on a National Action Plan to End Child Marriages and its related communication for development activities. The Constitutional Court ruling of January 2016 has been an impetus to move the agenda forward. All these efforts are part of the global campaign to end child marriages.