Inside a sparsely furnished two-room home in rural Zimbabwe, a 3-month-old baby cries. His mother, Virginia Mavhunga, spends her days making trips to the well with a bucket on her head, selling fruits and vegetables at the roadside, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes — she has too much on her hands to offer her child, Tawananyasha, much comfort. “That’s my life now, every day,” the new mother said. Between the chores of her strict routine, Virginia prepares her four younger siblings for school and helps them with homework when they return. It’s these tasks that hit Virginia the hardest — because, at age 13, she, too, would rather be in school. Virginia is part of a steep increase in pregnancies among girls and teenagers reported in Zimbabwe and other southern African countries during the pandemic. Zimbabwe has long struggled with such pregnancies and child marriages. Before COVID-19 hit, one of every three girls in the country was wed before age 18, many with unplanned pregnancies, because of lax enforcement of laws, widespread poverty, and cultural and religious practices.
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