Punish drug abuse decisively: NPRC

Drug peddlers, particularly those that sell them to young people, need to be punished severely to dry up supplies and curb the upsurge in drug use and resultant political and social conflicts, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) said in its latest report.

In its 2023 annual report tabled before Parliament last week by Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, the NPRC also stressed the need for more action against the high number of child marriages that result in school dropouts due to pregnancies.

The commission held several engagements with stakeholders including traditional leaders, on both drug abuse and child marriages given their adverse effects on individuals and society.

In its broadside against drugs, the report said: “The NPRC noted that drug use and substance dependence have become rampant across the nation and are serious potential conflict multipliers.” 

 The youth have been identified as both the perpetrators and the most affected by violence, with those of school-going age not spared. The uptake of harmful drugs and substances had resulted in violent behaviour, which had been highlighted as a major cause of conflict in communities.

“This has called for drastic measures to curb the upsurge in the uptake of harmful drugs and substances. In the quest to ‘catch them young’ in awareness raising on drug and substance abuse, the Commission visited schools in Manicaland (Nyanga and Chipinge districts) and Masvingo (Chiredzi District).”

The NPRC noted that key issues raised during awareness sessions include drugs commonly known as “ranger” and “mukozodo”, which were cited as the leading cause of addiction, anti-social behaviour and violence in the area.

“Other issues include the need to create community watch groups to monitor drug and substance abuse, stiff penalties for shop owners selling drugs or illegal substances. Porous borders present opportunities for smuggling of illicit drugs and dangerous substances. Children should respect their parents,” said the commission. 

Families told the NPRC that they were concerned about the effects of drug abuse, with family disintegration, spousal conflicts and parent-child and sibling-sibling conflict being the major issues arising from the abuse of drugs.

Drug abuse, said the NPRC, was resulting in poor moral fabric, with worrying results such as high levels of prostitution, increase in robberies, thefts, violence and use of foul language.

On child marriages, the NPRC noted that cases investigated generally oscillated from low to high extremes.

“The issue of child marriages deserves special mention as they are of serious concern to the nation. Investigations in Matabeleland South indicated a high number of school dropouts due to teen pregnancies and forced child marriages at Tshasvingo and Malungudzi villages in Beitbridge East,” said the report.

“It was revealed that parents do not report the cases to the traditional leadership or the police. The general trend is that every month, an average of two minors per village are married off after having been impregnated by young men aged between 18 and 23 years. 

 “The parents accept lobola while the young men responsible for the pregnancies cross over to South Africa to look for greener pastures to fend for their new families or as a way of evading responsibility.”

The commission believes that most cases of child sexual abuse were going unreported. Traces of an uncoordinated approach and blame-games were noted as contributing to under-reporting of child marriages or teen pregnancies whereby each stakeholder seemed to be focusing on pursuing their own key result areas, said the NPRC in the report. 

 The parents only report cases to the police when there have been disagreements over unmet expectations or in rare cases where more than one underage girl would have been impregnated by the same man resulting in conflicts amongst families involved as to whom the man chose to marry.

“An analysis of the findings indicates that the traditional leadership is reluctant to interfere with family matters involving child marriages. Communities have embraced teen pregnancies that often lead to child marriages because of benefits that teen mothers get from donors. 

 “Community members interviewed revealed that there are donors who give handouts in the form of infant formula and toiletries that also come in handy for the rest of the family. There is urgent need for inter-agency approach towards eliminating child marriages including collaborations with State and non-state actors as well as sister commissions to conduct massive awareness campaigns in the grossly affected areas,” the report reads.

Commenting on the report, Marondera East MP Cde Vimbayi Mutokonyi commended NPRC for giving attention to issues of sexual harassment and drug abuse. “From the report, we have seen that there are aspects well to do with the gender-based violence. There are issues of sexual harassment where the report recommended which laws can be looked into to ensure that there is less of such issues which would create more conflict in the society,” she said.

“The report did mention some challenges, particularly on the socio-economic challenges where there are issues of drug and substance abuse in schools and they had to do quite a lot of awareness to ensure that we see a massive reduction.”

A clergy from Ebenezer Apostolic Holy church, Reverend Nicholas Munyokovere, said the NPRC report was timely given recent reports of child marriage by some self styled prophets.

“While we do not want to comment substantively on cases before the courts, but there has been a worrying trend of sexual abuse of children by supposedly men of cloth. We have been reading stories in the media of senior leaders of some apostolic sects marrying young children who should be in school, so we are concerned and share the same concerns with NPRC,” said Rev Munyokovere.

A social worker with a local organisation, Mrs Precious Muzvidziwa said there was need for deterrent sentences on those convicted of sexual abuse of minors as is the case now with some men of cloth.

“People who should know better are turning out as perpetrators. Only deterrent sentences will meet the justice of such cases,” said Mrs Muzvidziwa.

Herald

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