The mining town of Hwange is currently mirrored by a dreary situation. The town continues to record high numbers in teenage pregnancies.
Although reasons vary and include poverty, some attributed the trend to sending girls to day schools where their movements are not strictly controlled.
The situation has however, been worsened by the Covid-19-induced national lockdown which has kept children out of school for months and families economically vulnerable.
Meanwhile, many are worried what the future holds for Hwange as a significant number of parents are losing grip of their children.
In separate interviews, some parents said sending a girl child to a boarding school was useful in reducing teenage pregnancies.
“Sending my daughter to a boarding school was ideal as she would have something to keep her busy unlike a day scholar. She was motivated to become someone better in future,” said a local Hwange resident and parent.
She said sending her child to boarding school would also teach her life skills.
“This would lay a solid foundation for responsibility for adulthood,” she added.
However, other parents said boarding schools did not protect teenagers from early pregnancies.
“Wisdom, maturity and visionary focus can be useful in eliminating thoughts of adolescent sex that can lead to unwanted pregnancies. If girls can possess these, I don’t see the need to take them to boarding schools, and besides, as parents we need to be there for our children because most of the time, they tend to think that independence and freedom is what is being rendered to them by us sending them to boarding schools where they do as they please.
“We also have to note that teenage pregnancies are not as a result of sending girls to day schools because we also have cases of child pregnancies in boarding schools,” she said.
What pains the heart of Hwange is that about 90 percent of these girls who fall pregnant at a tender age are the future that can bring development to the region.
Some of them being school head girls and junior leaders which all fades away once they fall pregnant.
Leaders are being lost and intelligent girls are dropping out of school since most of them fear social discrimination.
“I really needed to fall pregnant because the situation at home was not pleasing. I had to provide for my family; my mother who’s always sick and my siblings who need to go to school and get an education. I had to let him have sex with me without a condom and I had to lie about me taking morning after pills. I thought the only way to bail us out was through getting pregnant for this guy,” said a pregnant teenager who spoke on condition of anonymity.
She continued, “Little did I know that my immaturity was leading me to my destruction. The guy denied the pregnancy and stained my health status.”
Another girl said she had fallen pregnant to prove her sexuality as she was constantly labelled a lesbian.
Although Zimbabwe had a milestone achievement when it declared 18 the legal age of marriage in 2016, more needs to be done in order to curb the sexual exploitation of children as well as to significantly reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies.
“Adolescent pregnancy severely curtails girls and young women’s opportunities, and hinders their ability to reach their full potential,” says the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in its Zimbabwean country report, “Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy in Zimbabwe.”
Not only does teenage pregnancy carry social stigma, but also leads to lower level of education and poverty. In addition to dropping out of school, pregnant teenagers end up being chased away from home, or are even abandoned by the man responsible for the pregnancy. This may lead to stress, low self-esteem or even suicide. It also significantly contributes to maternal and child mortality.
The solutions for preventing teenage pregnancies go beyond encouraging Government to formulate and enforce laws and policies that prohibit sexual intercourse with persons below 18 years of age. Teenagers must also be fully equipped with the knowledge and resources that will enable them to take control of their own sexual reproductive health and rights.
This is echoed by Cheikh Tidiane Cisse, UNFPA Representative in Zimbabwe, who remarks that, “Realising the demographic dividend in Zimbabwe requires facing the challenges of adolescents and young people by investing in them, promoting their development, and expanding access to adolescent sexual and reproductive health services to reduce teenage pregnancy. In increasing the proportion of educated and productive young people, the country can boost its development.”
Adolescent pregnancy in Zimbabwe varies widely according to wealth, geographical location and education, the recently released UNPFA state of the world population report said.
The report says the fertility rate remains high among young girls, aged between 15 and 19 years, with nearly 1 in 10 adolescent girls giving birth every year while many die or are injured during childbirth.
“Adolescent pregnancy is more than twice higher among girls doing primary education than among those who attended secondary education,” said the UNFPA report.
According to the report, while progress has been made in certain areas, there remains many challenges in the country in ensuring universal access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) that need to be addressed.
*Fortune Ndlovu is a Lower Six pupil at Mosi oa Tunya High School.