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“Girls are disappearing into marriages, sold off in exchange for a cow”

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Working with communities in remote and often dangerous areas sounds like daunting task, but for Celestino Dumo, Plan International South Sudan’s Field Coordinator for Awerial in the country’s Lakes State, helping people in desperate need is his calling.

Since the brutal conflict of 2013, 52-year-old Dumo has been helping Internally Displaced People secure a second chance at their lives.

“I have never known peace in this country since I was a young boy,” he says as he zips up his tent at the so-called Humanitarian Hub, a campsite for NGOs which has been his home for the past three years. “I am devoted to work in the humanitarian sector, to reaching out to the most vulnerable people.”

South Sudan is facing a humanitarian crisis that is fast spiralling out of control. Inter-communal violence, the risk of armed militia arriving at any moment, corruption, economic collapse and the famine declared in February have placed the country in a state of deep despair.

“The magnitude of the disaster is overwhelming,” says Dumo. “As the armed conflict goes on, a seemingly endless supply of people who have fled their homes keeps flooding into Awerial. The 65,000-strong host community had to make room for 175,000 newcomers in just less than a week.”

“People come because war destroys their livelihoods,” he adds. “They escape with nothing and come to start a new life. They were welcomed and settled peacefully here but their old story of conflict, sexual assault and cattle raids has been replaced by an even more tragic story of hunger, drought and disease.”

“In response to the dire food needs, we are – in partnership with the World Food Programme – distributing food to 8,660 people. But the growing food crisis across the country means there isn’t enough food to meet the need.”

“With our nutrition programme, Plan International is providing Targeted Supplementary Feeding at four health centres in Awerial county. Currently we are managing 2,546 cases of malnutrition involving children under 5 and pregnant and lactating mothers.”

“While we are managing to keep starvation at bay, together with our partners, I cannot stress enough the urgency of this crisis. I continue to hold frail children in my hands, and eventually learn of their deaths. The news of pregnant mothers bleeding to death while giving birth in shacks with inadequate hygiene overwhelms me.”

“The number of young girls dropping out of school and disappearing into marriages because their families have exchanged them for cows astonishes me. Worst of all, we are all disturbed by the fear that a new wave of conflict will strike.”

Despite this bleak reality, Dumo finds comfort in knowing that at the end of the day, he is making a difference to the lives of many. His commitment to the people of Awerial remains unflinching.

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South Sudan- the new assembly point

Forty days ago, I arrived in South Sudan, the youngest African nation. The baby of the continent, whose infancy has been riddled by intense crisis creating deep holes in its tender flesh, rupturing its undeveloped rib cage and is now tempting to pollute its internal organs.

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Independence brought so much hope for South Sudan

The jubilation of her birth, just 6 years ago, quickly faded into deep groans, of, sometimes intense internal fighting, many times displacement and most times death of its citizens.

Its massive spread of productive and fallow land, a resource for economic prosperity and employment creation, now, sleep untouched, untilled, largely politically contested and is a battle ground for warring cadres.

Its population, is widely scattered in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, its own children are severely malnourished with millions at imminent risk of death.

The youthful generation has known nothing but war. Many of its schools are either closed or now a newly found base for military activity.

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A total of 8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance

Still I landed in Juba today!

Plan International has been working in Southern Sudan since 2006, then the pregnancy of independence from Sudan had been long conceived, but the trimester pains were sparks of armed conflict which lasted for years. In came civil conflict, social unrest, domestic communal tensions and the result – collapse of rule of law.

Still we helped all children to access their rights to education, health, protection and economic security. South Sudan’s turmoil is well recorded in our books of memory

South Sudan’s girls have felt the brunt of war silently. Many never stepped foot into school. For those who did, the gruesome war pulled them from the school benches into child marriages, trafficking, sexual assault and for some, mere idleness.

Plan International has for years stood firm to ensure these girls recover from the negative impact of the war and get opportunities to move on.DSCN0393.JPG

So I arrived in Juba, not ignorant of all these seemingly insurmountable hurdles, but with a spirit of purpose. A mandate to help, an ambassadorship weighing on me, to ensure we make impact.

I have deep respect and praise for the South Sudan Plan International team. For years, they have sacrificed their lives, they stayed put and worked in the scotching equatorial heat, hibernated and survived the bullet but still pushed the Plan International mandate. Theirs were tears and blood, yet they did not tire. They are the experts of South Sudan.

Help had to come, relief was overdue. A surge team, has now descended in Juba from across the Plan International Federation. We come in with strength to hold these national experts’ hands, to shoulder the burden and as one Plan International family, to continue ensuring children, especially girls live to their fullest potential. In them, we shall blend, with them we shall respond, scaling up and telling the story of all the work they, for years have laid foundations for in South Sudan.

It will definitely not be easy, it will demand commitment, resources and selfless dedication.

As I retire to rest on my fortieth night in Juba, it is just my flesh recuperating, but my mind and spirit are awake. I charge yours to be too. We cannot afford to be complacent, this country and its children deserve more. The more, comes from you and me.

For this reason, I invite you to the new assemply point. South Sudan!

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Inter-denominational Dialogue on Child Marriage in Zimbabwe : Communique

“We will use the pulpit to end child marriages” says Inter-denominational church leaders in Zimbabwe

Over 80 religious leaders from different churches in  Zimbabwe gathered to discuss their role in ending child marriages in a dialogue convened and facilitated by Plan International Zimbabwe.

Read their commitment below.

INTER-DENOMINATIONAL DIALOGUE ON CHILD MARRIAGES IN ZIMBABWE

HOLIDAY INN HOTEL, HARARE, ZIMBABWE

28 NOVEMBER 2016

COMMUNIQUÉ

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President of Christian Voices International Rev Tapfumanei Zenda  hands over signed commitment to Plan International Gender Advisor, Tinotenda Hondo 

WE, members of the clergy, representing inter-denominational leaders from churches in Zimbabwe, having converged at Holiday Inn Hotel, Harare, Zimbabwe, on 28 November 2016, for the Inter-denominational Dialogue on Child Marriages in Zimbabwe, facilitated by Plan International Zimbabwe.

  • Recognise that child abuse under the guise of “Child Marriage” is a harmful practice that is significantly prevalent in Zimbabwe and remarkably undermines the best interests of the children especially girls;
  • Further recognise that Child Marriage has adverse effects for the child and for thesociety as a whole. When girls marry, many stop going to school. Child Marriage therefore robs them of their education, health and long term prospects;
  • Note with concern that poverty is the major contributor that has destroyed the family structure creating vulnerabilities resulting various forms of child abuse
  • Note with concern that, 31% of girls are married before the age of 18 years in Zimbabwe;
  • Aware that dysfunctional families and the breakdown of the social fabric, some religious beliefs and cultural practices among other social, economic factors contribute to the high prevalence of child marriage.

Mindful of the fact that, as the Religious Leaders, we are also the custodians and moral compass of society to preserve positive norms and values and can act as agents of change. We therefore stand in solidarity and:

  • Commit as the Inter-denominational Religious Leaders, to take lead in interventions that are aimed at ending child marriages through implementing the following important steps;
  • Partnering with Government, Civil Society, Private Sector, Media, Communities and the children to end Child Marriages in Zimbabwe
  • Utilising the pulpit and other spaces within the church as platforms to raise awareness on child marriage, child rights, sex positive theology and doing specific prayers aimed at dislodging spiritual powers that influence such behaviour
  • Creating spaces to listen to and respect children’s views on issues that affect them
  • Providing emotional, practical and non-stigmatised support to girls who are or have been married
  • Strengthening the family unit by encouraging parents to have quality time with their children, listening, protecting, loving and understanding that children have developmental stages that they go through
  • Abiding by the constitution and acting within the confines of the law while promoting social justice within communities especially recognition of the full humanity of women and girls

In view of the above and in cognizance of Chapter 15 of the Constitution, we therefore;

  • Urge the State and its Development Partners at all levels to take measures to ensure due recognition of the role of religious institutions in ending child marriage
  • Call upon the government of Zimbabwe to commit itself to implementing poverty eradication in line with ZIMASSET Agenda 2063 and SDGs
  • Call for the capitation of the Religious Leaders through enhanced training, curriculum transformation in theological institutions
  • Call on in depth joint research, public dialogue involving religious leaders on harmful and traditional practices and public education on moral values that restores the social fabric.

Signed on 28 November 

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Delivering the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals for adolescent girls

Today’s adolescent girls will be tomorrow’s mothers. Effectively including them in the SDGs not only allows them to benefit from them but to own all its attributes for the next generation. #noonebehind

Post2015.org - what comes after the MDGs?

This post, written by Sarah Hendriks, Global Gender Advisor at Plan International, is the eleventh in our blog series which aims to explore how the Sustainable Development Goals can be implemented to include all social and economic groups.


Following many months of consultation and negotiation, the global community has reached an historic moment. We can see that great progress has been made in advancing a comprehensive and inclusive framework. The goals and targets bring the rights of a diverse global population into focus and identify the key global challenges that are currently hindering progress towards just, equitable and sustainable development.

The SDGs have been put forward as a ‘transformative’ agenda that incorporates the needs and concerns of all people and groups, including those who were left behind by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, this great promise of the SDGs can only be delivered if the financing, partnerships, implementation, and accountability measures…

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“Mother, I don’t want to see you again” tears of an abandoned child

A few days ago, I accompanied a group of foreign visitors to an orphanage in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands. There, we met beautiful souls, young, cheerful children. All with different sad stories to tell.

I was compelled to sit and talk with one of them. I will name her Runako, (Beauty). Her bright eyes indeed struck me, her cheekbones raised, her smile so glamorous. She surely deserves that name.

I held her shoulders so tight against me, and she squeezed my hand. In silence we stood for a while then she said in a frail voice, “handidi kutovaona mai” (I do not want to see my mother)

I allowed it to sink but I felt the pain in the deepest parts of my heart. A 7 year old girl, determined and agonisingly vowing not to see their biological mother again.

She held me so close, and said it all

She held me so close, and said it all

She went on……”She abandoned me at the river, she left me for the dogs. The cattle herders saw me and they brought me here. I could have died” Runako wept in my embrace and it broke my heart.

So much are her trials, her pain she cannot translate into words. I read through her tears. In these few sentences, I just but try to explain what she continued to say to me.

You have nothing for me

I have nothing for you, either,

In my tenderness you packed,

In my fragility, nakedness, lack and most vulnerable moments you went,

Neither looking back nor considering my pain,

I wailed in strangers’ embrace, on their laps and backs I grew,

Their cuddles were not enough despite their numbers.

In dawn, I expect your foorsteps, in dusk I look at the horizon wishing you can show up,

7 painful years, you have not showed up Amai.

I have seen it, I have learnt it, I am standing alone Amai

For now, I do not want to see you

I cannot face you, I will not contain you,

Let me be, from the palms of strangers I will receive,

In my zeal I will make it,

As for now, I don’t even want to see you Amai.

"I will soldier on" she told me

“I will soldier on” she told me

Runako is not alone, many are such words from millions of children strewn in countless countries world over. However the lack, no matter the degree of poverty, abandoning children and leaving them at the mercy of passer-by is inhuman and utter cruelty.

What happened to parenthood, what of love?

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Child Rights Movement Statement in response to Johannes Tomana’s statements quoted in the Herald of 19 June 2015

We are seriously outraged by the careless utterances attributed to the Prosecutor General in relation to the debate on age of consent. While we are tempted to take his comments as personal, we are clear that his office does not allow him to make such contradictory statement in view of Zimbabwe’s position on childrens’ rights, and the campaign to end child marriages.

We are shocked to hear these utterances, a few days after the President, as SADC and AU Chairperson clearly outlined the official position. We believe this is lack of respect not just for the laws he is supposed to uphold but for the office of the Head of State and Government, President Robert Mugabe.

We stand in unity to condemn in the most serious sense the demonic statements attributed to a person whose word is seen as law.

Every girl deserves a chance, to become a fully productive adult woman and as the child and women’s rights sector, we call upon him to do an honourable thing and resign and if he does not, we call upon the president to fire him for bringing the law profession and the country into disrepute.

We also call for an immediate retraction of his statement.

Children should not be sacrificed for the non-functional economy, rather we call for those in decision making to address the socio-economic problems he has raised.

In view of the fact that some are taking advantage of the contradictions between the laws and the constitution, we call for the immediate alignment.

We also call for the immediate affirmation by the Justice Minister that the constitution is supreme.

We stand in unity to demonise what the Prosecutor General (PG) has been quoted to say in the media. Like every child, every girls has a vision for her future and the PG is destroying it by redirecting her future towards marriage. Patriarchy has SYSTEMATICALLY designed marriage as an achievement and the ultimate goal for every girl, which is ridiculous.

The PG’s position is untenable. These statements are indeed shocking, especially from such a high office mandated to ensure child protection and quite unfortunate at a moment like this where numerous strides are  being made at many levels to address child marriages in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole.

These are reckless personal statements that are not endorsed with the law. He takes upon himself the role of a psychologist who can then say with certainty that a 12 year old is capable of consent when he clearly does not understand the development stages of a human being.

A 12 year old is a minor who cannot decide a lot of things including; which school to go to, how to wash their privates and what clothes to wear. Now you want to entrust them with consent to have sex.

We as the child rights sector cannot intrust Zimbabwe’s law to a prosecutor general who is intertwined in the patriarchal discourse.

We are shocked that Tomana is supporting the milling of paedophiles around our children and we call for the magistrates to henceforth desist from sentencing rapists to community service.

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No going back on ending Child Marriage

Today, 16 June, the African Union and children across Africa commemorates Day of the African Child. This year’s theme, “25 Years after the Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa” is opportune for Zimbabwean children with the growing national awareness of child marriage as a gross human rights violation which is widely prevalent in many communities.

Every year 14 million girls are married off before their 18th birthday, depriving them of their childhood, their rights to education, to health and to a life of their choice.1 in 9

In Zimbabwe, an estimated 3 in every 10 girls are married as children. This day allows the nation to pose and see how child marriage undermines progress on girls’ education, and how ending child marriage can speed up efforts to improve education for girls.

Fortunately, we have more interest, investment and political commitments in this issue than ever before. There is desire by many governments, including the Government of Zimbabwe, Civil Society, Traditional leadership, and private sector enterprises to put more targeted financial and technical resources towards prevention and mitigation.

Evidently, the launch of an African Union campaign to end child marriage, to the promise of the soon to unveiled national launch in Zimbabwe coupled with development of national strategies on child marriage firmly puts a once taboo issue on the political agenda.

Research continues to show that the prevalence rate of child marriage is highest among girls with little or no formal education, and among households with the lowest income levels. Equally, the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married before 18 and to have children during her teenage years. Schools therefore create protective environments against child marriage.

We applaud many developments in the education sector enhanced by the government and diverse partners in the Education Sector Working group to date; the efforts to mobilise resources for the education development funding, the curriculum review; the improved parity allowing more girls to have more access to school compounded by the increased transition of girls from primary to secondary school.

Zimbabwe launched the Girls and young women empowerment framework

Zimbabwe launched the Girls and young women empowerment framework

Yet, so much remains to be done to ensure that education is indeed an effective strategy to end child marriage that yields positive change in the lives of girls. On the Day of the African Child, we cannot wait any longer when an enormous population of our young girls are exposed. Time to act is now.

Our government must substantially increase resource allocation to education in order to secure and strengthen the necessary conditions for good quality education. It must strengthen the development and support long term strategies that lead to sufficient numbers of well trained and motivated teachers, including recruitment, pre- and in-service training, professional development, as well as regular and sufficient remuneration that includes incentives to work in the poorest and most remote areas.

Creation of safe schooling environments, free from abuse and violence yet with adequate and proper access to hygiene and appropriate sanitation for girls is mandatory. Efforts to promote girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights are an important outcome in and of itself and as a child marriage prevention strategy. These conditions and many expand access to secondary school and facilitate improved secondary school completion rates for girls.

Girl power

Girl power

Child brides are still children, there is need to expand the institutional and educational resource framework to cover formal, informal, technical and vocational education programs.

As expounded by young women and girls who participated in the just-ended African Union Summit, “We carry the present and the future of Africa, we ask our families, communities, governments, corporates, media and others to also invest in our potential, and ensure that our rights are protected.”

Together we can join these reverberating voices and bring child marriage to an end in our generation.