CHILDREN’S CORNER with PANIC CHILUFYA
IN SPITE of interventions and calls by various stakeholders to end teenage pregnancies, numbers have continued rising in many parts of the country, a situation that leaves the young victims vulnerable.
The increasing numbers have prompted First Lady Christine Kaseba to call for concerted efforts to ensure that teenage pregnancies are declared a crisis because the vice is retrogressive to the development process of any nation.
Speaking when she officially opened the First Ladyâ€™s Youth Mentorship Programme at Chinsali Girls Secondary School on Tuesday, Dr Kaseba said: â€œTeenage pregnancy is a crisis. We have 42 per cent of women getting married before the age of 18. Every month, 38 women die as a result of pregnancy. Our mortality rate is 591 per 1,000 births. If we say all the three million who are in reproductive age will be pregnant, we are actually looking at 18,000 women dying. And yet we have never declared it a crisis. We need to declare teenage pregnancy a crisisâ€.
She was saddened that Muchinga is among the provinces with high numbers of early pregnancies in the country. In 2013, the province recorded 239 pregnancies; Chilonga Day Secondary School had the highest number of 32 followed by Nakonde Secondary School at 21 and Chinsali Girls Secondary School with 14.
Between January and July this year, the number has risen to 348 with Chilonga Day Secondary School and Nakonde Secondary School topping the list with 48, Mununga Secondary School with 23 pregnancies.
Unfortunately this problem is not only peculiar to Muchinga Province; but the grim picture is evident nationwide.
According to Zambiaâ€™s 2013 Millennium Development Goals Report, early marriage and adolescent pregnancy are the two main triggers of the high maternal mortality rate in the country. Over 30 percent of 15-19 year old girls have already been pregnant or have had a child. This indeed is a crisis which requires more stringent measures if these statistics are to be reversed.
In April last year Dr Kaseba launched a campaign against child marriages in Chipata in Eastern Province. The province was deliberately picked because it had the highest rate at 60 percent of child marriages. This campaign was later rolled out to other provinces in collaboration with traditional leaders who have shown commitment towards ending this violation of child rights.
Early last month, Dr Kaseba again called for the criminalising of child marriages and teenage pregnancies and to increase protection boundaries for affected children.
Speaking at a three-day national symposium on ending child marriage under the theme Let Girls be Girls not Brides: Zero-tolerance to Child Marriage she said: â€œMuch as we want to prevent this practice we have to consider the plight of our children that are already victims of the exploitative and abusive practice of child marriages. Perpetration of abuse of children should strongly be shamed through criminalising such acts.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is designed to guarantee certain individual rights – which are abused by early marriage or indeed teenage pregnancies. This robs girls of their childhood.
These children once they get pregnant lose their right to an education except for some who have managed to take advantage of the re-entry policy which was introduced in 1997.
However according to Minister of Education John Phiri there was need to carry out more meaningful research into the policy to establish whether it is working and if it is not, to identify the impediments.
As a result of teenage pregnancies, the young girls suffer physical and mental violence, injury as well as sexual abuse, rape and sexual exploitation.Â They are unable to enjoy a reasonable standard of health and eventually the right to economic and financial independence which they can only achieve after acquiring an education.
To echo Dr Kaseba, teenage pregnancy has become a crisis; meaning it is no longer a problem solely for government and other stakeholders to tackle but it needs a collective effort to find a lasting solution.
It means there is need to look at the problem holistically because the measures in place are not yielding the desired results. In all these schools where large numbers of girls are getting pregnant there is need to set up inquiries to investigate the circumstances leading to this worrying trend, it is possible the findings will be quite astonishing.
There is need to educate the girl child on the consequences of indulging in sexual activity at an early age. What is surprising is that as we get more developed and knowledgeable, the numbers of girls getting pregnant are rising instead of reducing. I am sure we can learn a lot on how other societies coped with teenage pregnancies and how they managed to reduce the numbers.
We should inculcate self pride and self worth in our girls and explain to them that motherhood comes with a lot of responsibilities which requires intense maturity and that abstinence is the best route. In as much as babies are a blessing from God they need to be born at the right time and in the right environment.
With 42 percent of our girls getting pregnant every year before the age of 18 how do we hope to achieve the gender equality that we are all hoping for? At this rate most of our young women will forever be dependent on the men folk for their very survival. How then do we hope to eradicate cases of gender based violence, exploitation and abuse?Â These numbers are indeed worrying for all of us.
Remember children are our future, until next week, you take care.
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CHILDREN’S CORNER with PANIC CHILUFYA