BY EVANS MATHANDA Zimbabwe is among countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have high rates of teenage pregnancies largely due to poverty and prevalence of harmful cultural practices.
Apart from economic problems, the coronavirus lockdowns have been blamed for an upsurge in teen mothers in the country.
Zimbabwe experienced a notable increase in teenage pregnancies following the rigorous six-month lockdown imposed after the outbreak of Covid-19 two years ago.
Although it is a global problem, adolescent pregnancies mostly affect poorer and marginalised groups.
Many young women in patriarchal societies experience intense pressure to get married and have children while they are still children themselves.
When girls aren’t allowed to make choices about their sexual and reproductive health and well-being, the number of teen mothers will continue to rise.
Girls must have the autonomy to make decisions and they must have access to quality healthcare and in-depth sexuality education.
In Zimbabwe 3 000 girls discontinued their studies in 2018 after they fell pregnant.
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That number stayed largely constant in 2019 and about 4 770 pregnant pupils dropped out of school in 2020.
Nearly 5 000 teenage pregnancies and about 2 000 underage marriages were reported between January and February of last year.
According to the World Bank, the country’s adolescent fertility rate has been declining over the past few years.
Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Malawi, Madagascar, South Africa, and Zambia all “recorded a steep rise in cases of sexual and gender-based violence which has contributed to a reported increase in pregnancies among young and adolescent girls.”
Statistics suggest that poverty is the primary factor causing teen pregnancies in Zimbabwe and other African countries.
The young generation has the right to correct information and services on their sexual and reproductive health.
The scourge of teenage pregnancies in Zimbabwe was amplified by the death of a 15-year-old girl Anna Machaya, who died while giving birth in July last year at a Johanne Marange Apostolic Church shrine.
Zimbabweans were outraged by her death and that fuelled debate about child marriages.
Typically, the affected girls drop out of school, which adds to a number of problems for both of them and the child they bear.
Many people applauded the Constitutional Court’s decision this year to consider raising the legal consent age for sex from 16 to 18 years, as adolescent pregnancy continues to be a problem in the country.
Young people may reach their full potential and contribute to the economic and social revolution when they are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to protect themselves and make wise decisions.
Teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections like HIV, unsafe abortions, child marriages, and a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health information services are among the issues that adolescents in Zimbabwe must deal with.
Models of community mobilisation are essential for preventing teen pregnancies.
Through community mobilisation, communities can become more autonomous and take the lead in directing their own growth.
Until there is a strong sense of community support and participation from all corners of society, ending teenage pregnancies will remain a challenge.
Community-based participatory programmes would be beneficial to achieving dependable and long-lasting healthy lifestyles and behavioural change.
Individuals can develop initiatives to lower teen pregnancies and child marriage through community engagement and professional development.
Everyone must help the community get organised so that learning can take place and action can follow. Health projects won’t be able to achieve their goals without community involvement.
This can only be achieved by encouraging constant conversation among the community members rather than imposing one’s own ideas on them.
In order to focus on and ultimately address a pressing issue like teen pregnancy, community mobilisation is basically a better process of reaching out to various sectors of communities and forming partnerships.
Community mobilisation helps in the prevention of teen pregnancies by encouraging individuals and organisations to take initiative and effect change.
This entails promoting community-wide collaboration between the public and private sectors and mobilising the required tools, data, and assistance.
The literature usually refers to mobilisation initiatives as “developing community or collaborative partnerships,” “community engagement or involvement,” or “coalition building.”
The basic goal of involving a range of community people to create and carry out a shared vision is the same even though some of these terms refer to specific structures.
The government must improve national health systems and provide extensive sexuality and relationship education in schools.
- Evans Mathanda is a journalist and development practitioner who writes in his capacity. For feedback email: [email protected] or call 0719770038 and Twitter @EvansMathanda19