Breast ironing, virginity tests are human rights violations – UNFPA report

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi

FINDINGS from the State of the World Population are showing that all over the world, including in Zimbabwe, tens of thousands of girls are, on a daily basis, having their health rights and future stolen from them through the prevalence of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and harmful cultural practices.

At least 19 harmful practices, ranging from breast ironing to virginity testing, are considered human rights violations, according to the UNFPA report, which focuses on the three most prevalent ones, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and extreme bias against daughters in favour of sons.

In Zimbabwe, GBV and harmful practices are undoing many gains made.

“The Sexual and Reproductive Health consequences of early marriage can be devastating,” Dr. Esther Muia, UNFPA Zimbabwe Country Representative said Tuesday at the launch of the 2020 State of the World Population Report.

“Teenage pregnancies, from the many young girls married off at an early age, result in early pregnancies, increasing the risk of maternal deaths and birth injuries such as fistula to the mothers and brain damage to babies due to prolonged, obstructed labour as the young girls’ bodies are not yet ready for child birth.”

At the same time, Zimbabwe is among the 20 African countries with the highest child marriage rate.

According to MICS 2019, about 1 in 3 (34%) of women of the ages 20-24 were first married or in union before the age of 18.

Accelerated action is urgently called for in Zimbabwe to address this problem amongst other harmful practices, that are obstacles to growth and development.

While progress has been made in ending some harmful practices worldwide, the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to reverse gains even more. It calls for urgent accelerated action in Zimbabwe as well.

Timo Olkkonen, European Union Ambassador in Zimbabwe, said the EU has demonstrated its commitment to eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls globally through the Spotlight Initiative, the flagship programme of the EU-UN strategic partnership.

“The UN is collaborating with the government of Zimbabwe and Civil Society Organisations in its implementation of this USD$30 million programme,” he said.

“The initiative has identified child marriage as one of the urgent harmful practices that need to be addressed in Zimbabwe.

“Child marriage is a gross violation of child rights and robs girls of their childhood, preventing them from reaching their full potential and in most cases, resulting in increased poverty.”

“Let us allow girls to be children first before they become wives and mothers.”

A number of national efforts to end GBV and harmful cultural practices are being implemented led by the Government of Zimbabwe in collaboration with civil society organisations, academic institutions and others with financial support from the Health Development Fund.