THERE has been an increase in child pregnancies at the Chingwizi holding camp in Mwenezi blamed on moral decadence fuelled by food shortages and a high rate of school dropouts.

As a result of the poverty afflicting most of the camp's residents who were displaced by the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam floods, most parents are marrying off their juvenile daughters to "well-to-do" workers from the nearby sugarcane farming community, according to a report by the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ).

The report titled The dilemma of learning at Chingwizi compiled earlier this month noted that pathetic learning conditions at the camp owing to tent shortages, inadequate infrastructure and inhuman set-ups had resulted in most young girls being married off to well-to-do men.

"Children as young as 10, 11 and 12 years have fallen pregnant at Chingwizi while hundreds of other students have simply dropped out of school because of the pathetic nature of the schools. The school environment is simply not enticing to pupils, many of whom have decided to move to seek for an alternative way of life," part of the PTUZ report reads.

"Many have responded to this combination of desert, forest and hardships by simply dropping out of school and seeking 'greener' pastures be it in marriage or employment. It is the girl-child that has become the poorest of the poor and the most miserable victim of all victims," the report says.

PTUZ attributed the sad trend to the inhumane conditions in the camp, which now resembles a refugee camp, where parents share one tent with their grown-up children.

"Many a time pupils leave their allocated family tent to allow their parents to enjoy their conjugal rights. This has led to many students roaming around at night instead of studying, the report added.

"This has also contributed to high sexual activity among students, moral decadence and social decay, let alone abuse, particularly by police, more so given the critical shortage of resources at the camp and the police's strategic position by virtue of controlling food distribution and storerooms."

An outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases was recently reported to have hit the camp, with gonorrhoea and syphilis being more rampant.

The teachers' trade union said current Form 4 students' examination fees were only paid through the Basic Education Assistance Module after the Zimbabwe School Examination Council had long closed the registration of 'O' Level exams.

It also cited examination centre challenges at Chingwizi camp due to the unavailability of strong rooms and proper storage of exam papers. PTUZ president Takavafira Zhou urged the government to speedily break the impasse with the families and relocate them before the start of the rainy season and create a conducive learning environment for leaners.

There are over 2 500 primary and secondary pupils enrolled at the four schools, with only 50 teachers, resulting in a very high teacher-to-student ratio.

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