By MARCUS MUSHONGA in Harare

THE coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and resultant ockdowns have exposed Zimbabwean children to sexual exploitation, drug abuse and illegal marriages.

This is according to a report by a human rights organisation, which reveals the extent to which socio-economic rights were impacted on by the pandemic in the Southern African country.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) research study revealed children bore the brunt of the outbreak since early last year.

ZPP noted the pandemic has had far-reaching effects on the right to education and social well-being of children.

According to a Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency Poverty, Income, Consumption and Expenditure Survey (ZIMSTATS PICES) report, a majority of children as of July 2020 were not able to engage in online or distance learning.

The worst affected were those in rural areas where only one quarter of children engaged in distance learning.

“This has the risk of widening the emerging and growing inequalities in education,” ZPP stated.

The organisation lamented that closure of schools during lockdown took away the protective sanctuary for children offered by schools, leaving them exposed to the above-mentioned violations.

ZPP also highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on the health delivery system, which was already underfunded and dilapidated.

“This undermined the right to health for many people.”

Lack of equipment, limited intensive care unit beds and ventilators, lack of protective equipment, staff shortages, poor remuneration and working conditions for frontline health workers are among many other challenges.

Some health facilities were closed after COVID-19 infections were reported.

Thus some people failed to access maternity services, life-saving support and medication for HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis.

COVID-19 affected millions of people dependent on the informal economy and contract and casual workers in the formal sectors, with women being the worst affected.

The pandemic also affected food consumption and food and nutrition security as households lost incomes.

Food prices went up due to the inflationary shocks induced by the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed to have reached Zimbabwe on March 20, 2020.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government imposed a lockdown the following month.

The country of 15 million people has since reported 38 572 cases, including 1 582 deaths. – CAJ News