A RISE in teenage pregnancies, commercial sex work and armed gangs has been recorded in some Beitbridge communities owing to rampant irregular cross-border movements between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
There are more than 20 unofficial crossing points along the Limpopo River where undocumented migrants cross, according to residents and official data.
Community representatives have raised concern over the impact of illicit and informal activities on the social and moral fibre within certain communities, as young children and adults are now abandoning school and chasing lucrative opportunities being generated from the unofficial points of entry.
At Shashe Clinic in Ward 8, a total of 38 teenage pregnancies were recorded in that last quarter of 2020, compared to the previous quarter (June to Sept 2020) in which 22 teen pregnancies were reported, according to a population mobility mapping report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the government of Zimbabwe.
Furthermore, criminal activities have compromised the security of residents as smuggling gangs are usually armed and dangerous.
Jabulani Makhado, the Beitbridge Progress Residents and Ratepayers Association deputy secretary for information and publicity, said they were worried about robberies and rape cases as well as the abuse of women along the Limpopo.
“Robberies are a daily scene along the Limpopo, so are rape cases and abuse of women. Lack of monitoring and proper upbringing by parents is the main cause of teenage pregnancies and child marriages. Young girls are being brainwashed into love and intimacy, then the marriages will become some form of damage control,” Makhado said.
“Exposure to ill-gotten money is also causing a rise in commercial sex work. Parents must inculcate the working culture in their children.”
Pastors Fraternal chairperson Busisa Moyo said young people are lured into making easy money.
“Teenage pregnancies are caused by peer pressure, and most support groups have been suspended because of lockdown regulations. Also, church gatherings where these girls normally get teaching, encouragement, those platforms are no longer active, so the rise in those cases are exacerbated by lockdown, hence the effects are unavoidable. On this, platforms like Zoom meetings can be used, but they need support for data,” Moyo said.
According to the participatory mapping exercise (PME) report, the presence of commercial sex workers was also reported and observed in various congregation areas, within or close to unofficial points of entry.
“The PME assessment team was informed that some of the commercial sex workers at congregation areas include some who would have migrated from the Beitbridge urban and some from other districts. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is providing mobile clinic services which include provision of condoms, contraceptives, and safe-sex education in some of unofficial points of entry and congregation areas. However, there is still a gap for sexual and reproductive health services, as in some areas access to condoms, contraceptives and information was not readily available,” the mobility mapping report reads.
“An increase of teenage pregnancies and early marriages in the time of Covid-19 in the communities closer to informal points of entry were also reported. This was attributed to schools’ closure and lack of sexual reproductive health services in the communities such as access to condoms, contraceptives, and information.”
The PME report by Zimbabwe and the IOM identified both regular and irregular cross-border movements between Zimbabwe and South Africa for employment, trade, and commerce, seeking health services, family reunion or for illicit activities, which include trafficking in persons, smuggling of goods and other illicit activities.
Asylum seekers mainly transit through Zimbabwe or stay to make their asylum application, according the population mobility mapping report.
“According to various submissions and site observations, the unofficial points of entry have been in existence for decades and have created an informal economy for some of the locals in Beitbridge. This informal economy consists of smugglers, service providers providing food, accommodation, and transport, facilitating the passage of smuggled goods, contraband, and irregular migrants,” the report reads.
“The activities around the unofficial points of entry and nearby congregation areas has brought several societal challenges among communities. Some of the communities’ members live in insecurity, as some of the gangs that operate through the unofficial points of entry are dangerous and armed. The convoys of smugglers and contraband handlers move in high speed in communities, thereby endangering the lives of many.”
In 2019, eight passengers were killed in a case where a high-speed truck with 20 passengers from informal points was involved in an accident.
Makhado told The NewsHawks that the porous borders provide fertile ground for smuggling and other criminal syndicates in Beitbridge, resulting in an increased crime rate.
“Those who are supposed to protect the border are enriching themselves through fuelling smuggling along the Limpopo River. You will realise that smuggling involves a lot of money that attracts hardcore criminals into Beitbridge.
“This has the potential of making the victims explore all means of protecting themselves including acquisition of illegal firearms and other dangerous equipment for defence,” he said.
“Government needs to deal with remuneration of its employees and security personnel that work so that they are not susceptible to corruption and so that they deal with smuggling and irregular movement thoroughly. Access to travel documents should also be made easy so that people will not use the unofficial entry points.”