More than 4,500 children in Zimbabwe dropped out of school to get married this year, despite a court ruling that no person should marry before reaching 18 years.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora told the state-controlled Herald newspaper that 3,650 girls and 251 boys had dropped out of secondary school between January and November this year.
Another 305 girls and 13 boys had dropped out of primary school to start their own families, he added.
Some of the children who opt out of school for marriage would have started school at older ages.
In Zimbabwe, children generally enrol for primary school at the age of five or six, but many in rural and farming communities start late.
The Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Monitoring Survey said 21 percent of children, mostly girls, are married before the age of 18, largely because of poverty and cultural and religious practices.
Dokora said the government needed to strengthen awareness campaigns against child marriages and dissuade especially girls from entering into early marriages.
“We are going in full-bloodied campaigns within our school systems to discourage children, their parents and guardians from encouraging early marriages,” he said.
The El Nino induced drought of 2015/16 has made the situation worse in some rural areas where if parents run out of livestock to sell for subsistence, they trade off their children in early marriages.