Gender Life and Style

Early pregnancies still on rise

INSPITE of all the awareness campaigns and interventions, various stakeholders are continually taken aback with reports of girls getting pregnant or being married off at a tender age.
The State of World Population 2013, produced by the UN Population Fund notes that out of the 7.3 million births, 2 million are to girls who are 14 or younger, many of whom suffer long-term health and social consequences from these early pregnancies; while an estimated 70,000 adolescents in developing countries die every year from complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
Early pregnancy takes a toll on a girl’s health, education and rights. It also prevents her from realising her potential and this adversely affects the survival and growth of the baby.
It is therefore heartening to note that this fight against teen pregnancies and child marriages is gaining momentum with Senior Chief Bright Nalubamba of Southern Province warning of stern action against village headmen who do not report early marriage cases to relevant authorities.
The chief was speaking when over thirty pupils from various schools in Namwala conducted a review of the declarations they had made during a Children Indaba held on June 16 this year to commemorate the International Day of the African Child.
Giving an update on measures that are being put in place to curb child marriages in his chiefdom, Chief Nalubamba said any headman who conceals a case of child marriage is not worth being a leader and should not be in his chiefdom. “…we can’t afford to lose female future leaders to early marriages…those village headpersons who don’t report child marriage cases will be in for it,” the traditional leader said during the meeting held at the village civic centre.
This follows the call by First Lady Christine Kaseba for concerted efforts to ensure that teenage pregnancies are declared a crisis because the vice is retrogressive in the development process of any nation. Dr Kaseba declared that teenage pregnancy is a crisis when she officially opened the First Lady’s Youth Mentorship Programme in Chinsali last month.
In July, Dr Kaseba again called for the criminalising of child marriages and teenage pregnancies and to increase protection boundaries for affected children.
She was 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.
“Much 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 marriage. Perpetration of abuse of children should strongly be shamed through criminalising such acts,” she said.
Equally important is the requirement to establish safety nets to offer protection for such girls to rebuild their ‘damaged’ childhood; often times, they have nowhere to go.
They end up staying in the same marriages they should not have entered into in the first place. There is need to offer safe spaces, mentoring, educational opportunities and solidarity for them as a way of introducing new possibilities into their lives.
Dr Kaseba noted that social protection systems should prioritise the needs of children who are victims of child marriages and those most vulnerable to the scourge. “The safety of our children being removed from marriages should be taken highly into consideration if the mission to curb child marriages is to be successful. We need to provide safe houses and make, our girls aware of such facilities in order to provide a sanctuary to those whose parents may not want back.”
Stern action should not only be directed at headmen but any other perpetrators who rob these young girls of their childhood at a very early age. Very often we have heard of parents or guardians using poverty as justification for marrying off these young girls. They do not seem to take into consideration the long-term and negative consequences this has on the girls who are forced to grow up well before their time.
Furthermore, it is the collective responsibility of all of us to continually advise your girls, the future leaders about the dangers of early marriages and teen pregnancies; these vices have the potential to drastically alter the course of their lives. Girls should always be motivated and encouraged to aspire for a better future for themselves, their families and communities.
Remember children are our future, until next week, you take care. or

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