Family sanctioned child kuchaya mapoto (cohabitation) in Zimbabwe: lived experiences of young people as child cohabiters.
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Even though the phenomenon of child cohabitation is becoming widespread in Zimbabwe, very little is known about the drivers and the lived experiences of children cohabiting. Child cohabitation infringes on the fundamental rights of children that include the right to education, health, personal development, and undermines the best interests of the children involved in such a union. The study aimed to gain an in-depth understanding of the experiences of young people as child cohabiters in Zimbabwe. It is essential to highlight that all the young people who participated in this study started cohabiting when they were still children. The thesis strived to answer the following research questions (1) what are the lived experiences of young people as child cohabiters in Zimbabwe? (2) What are the drivers and consequences of kuchaya mapoto union amongst children in Zimbabwe? (3) What are the perceptions and views of parents concerning kuchaya mapoto unions involving children in Zimbabwe? (4) What are the intervention strategies to curb kuchaya mapoto unions in Zimbabwe? The study adopted a qualitative research design positioned within the interpretivist paradigm. Data was collected from a sample of 9 young people between the ages of 18-22 who explored their experiences as child cohabiters, 10 parents with children who are cohabiting, two social workers with experience working with children, one teacher, and one religious leader from the community of Dzivarasekwa. Data were analysed using both the thematic content analysis and discourse analysis. The findings indicated that young people do not cohabit willingly. Poverty, cultural beliefs, and practices when teenagers fall pregnant underline the decision for parents to enforce cohabitation as a precursor for future marriage. However, cohabitation undermines the health, and educational rights of young people, undermining their care and protection. The findings further demonstrated that the burden of managing parental responsibilities was overwhelming because of being young and inexperienced. Hence, it was difficult for the young male participants to provide for their families, which forced them to do strenuous odd jobs to be able to take responsibility for their families' upkeep. The young female participants, on the other hand, felt exploited and abused because they were forced to do all the household chores in their in-laws’ household. Feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, and regret contributed immensely to mental health issues for the young people. Apart from the challenges that the participants experienced as child cohabitors, some of the participants demonstrated resilience and a sense of agency not to remain as victims of their circumstances. These young people are taking care of their children and providing for them without adequate support from their respective families. Deconstructing the notion that teenage mothers and fathers are not capable of stepping up and taking responsibility for their children. They demonstrated that they were able to rise above dominant discourses that not only marginalize and disempower them but sees them as irresponsible individuals who are not capable of taking care of their children. The recommendations include the need for parents to monitor and supervise their children and be involved extensively in their lives. Additionally, the school and the community play an essential role in the reduction of teenage pregnancy, which was a significant contributor to child cohabitation in this current study. Hence, the need to create effective after school programmes such as sports clubs, scripture union clubs, debate clubs, and writing clubs in communities is important because these can provide a safe environment for children to be nurtured and disciplined. Teenagers are having sex, hence the distribution and availability of condoms in schools in Zimbabwe is critical in reducing the high rate of teenage pregnancy. Prioritising support for school-drop out is important, and the Zimbabwe government should put in place tangible mechanisms that support school re-entry for teenage girls that drop out of school due to pregnancy. Lastly, aligning laws relevant to children with the Constitution of Zimbabwe is fundamental in the protection of children from the repercussions of child cohabitation.