Step parenting a haven for girl child abuse in Zimbabwe
By Bekezela Mguni
The acute challenges in Zimbabwe’s health delivery system is contributing to an increase in premature deaths and the phenomenon of step parenting as young widows or widowers remarry in order to get companionship, security and to satisfy emotional needs. However, step children often face challenges and girls are disproportionately affected because of the traditional and religious role they play in the family.
Growing up as a step child, Faith Nyoni (18) says she was forced to do almost all household chores at an early age and was denied the opportunity to enjoy life as a young girl.
“My mother died when I was nine years old. My mother died at the age of 29. Before she died, she had already separated with my father who was 33 years old at that time. I was her only child. Because of the separation and death, I was forced to assume some duties that children of my age were not supposed to do,” says Faith.
Faith says after the passing away of her mother, her father was always available to help with most household chores. She says life took a drastic change for her when her father remarried.
“When my father remarried, he told me that things would be better at home since there was now someone who would play a mother figure to us. I was happy at that prospect since I was overwhelmed by work,” says Faith.
When her father remarried, Faith says she did not only get a stepmother but also a stepsister. Faith says her stepsister was only two years younger. She says initially the situation seemed better.
“My father was happier and was now concentrating more on his work. I was now spending more time with my step mother and stepsister. However, I began to notice that whenever I asked for something from my stepmother, the answer would always be a no,” says Faith.
“In our community, women are supposed to spend most of their time at home and do almost all the domestic chores. If I was male, life would have been better because I would spend most of my time out with my friends,” says Faith.
Faith says boys experience less challenges because they are allowed to have their own space and to interact with their friends.
“I was not allowed to go out and play because there was always work waiting to be done. Eventually I was even forced to drop out of school because my stepmother said there was no money for my school fees. My father was in a difficult position because he could not challenge my stepmother on some decisions she was making for me,” says Faith.
Nomvelo Masina (37), a neighbour to Faith says she witnessed all the challenges that Faith was facing but could not do anything about it.
“Traditionally it is not acceptable for community members to interfere in the affairs of one’s neighbour until they come forth to report. There are so many cases of girls who are being abused by their step parents. Girls are more vulnerable because of our culture which relegates girls to domestic roles. Boys in such situations can get help because they get opportunities to go out and interact with other community members,” says Nomvelo.
Nomvelo says in some situations the girls can be sexually abused by step fathers or step brothers.
“There are some cases where girls living with step parents are sexually abused. Sometimes the abuse may never be reported because of fear or shame. It is difficult for girls to be raised by step parents. The best way forward would be to take the girls to live with their maternal grandparents or aunts. However, at times the relatives would not be available for different reasons,” says Nomvelo.