NOMSA NKANA and SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Lusaka
BARELY a week passes without media reports of teenage pregnancies, child and forced marriage, as well as continued escalating cases of school dropouts among girls.
Despite efforts Government and other stakeholders are making, the cases keep increasing, a situation which may lead to a ruined future generation.
According to the 2017 statistics released by the Ministry of Gender, the total number of girls who got pregnant in rural areas countrywide between grades 1 to 7 was 9,321, while in the urban areas it was 1,363.
During the same period under review, teenage pregnancies in the rural areas between grades eight to 12 were 1,764 while the total was 1,192 in urban areas.
However in 2018, the statistics in Eastern Province alone were alarming with the province recording over 24,000 teenage pregnancies between the ages of 12 and 20.
And Chipata district was ranked first with over 5,000 cases, followed by Lundazi with 4,898 cases. Petauke had 3,792, Katete 2,675, Nyimba 1,481, Chadiza 1,419, Mambwe 1,198, while Vubwi was the lowest with 560 cases.
In 2017, the region recorded 1,870 for both rural and urban areas and the number increased to 22,861 in 2018.
According to provincial distributions, Eastern, Southern and North-Western provinces recorded high cases of pregnancies at primary level.
At secondary level, Copperbelt was leading followed by North- Western and Lusaka provinces.
And the Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC) cited the 2016 Educational Statistical Bulletin, which states that 11,765 girls in primary school and 3,257 in secondary school became pregnant and dropped out of school and, as such, a total of 15,222 dropped out in 2016 alone.
And the Non-governmental Gender Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC) has noted with concern the alarming number of adolescent girls that fall pregnant in the country.
NGOCC executive director Engwase Mwale says the increased levels of teenage pregnancies point to a deepening problem not only in provinces with the high numbers but in society as a whole.
“NGOCC is deeply saddened with this development as it negatively affects the girl children. Without doubt, the increased cases of teenage pregnancies will not only have socio-economic effects on the affected girls, but their health as well,” Ms Mwale said.
She said it is a fact that some of the girls will drop out of the education system, hence depriving them of their potential to pursue careers that can enhance their livelihoods because of teenage pregnancies.
Ms Mwale also said the girls are exposed to other physical, mental and psychological health complications associated with early pregnancies.
“NGOCC therefore calls upon the Government and other civil society organisations to accelerate provision of age-appropriate sexuality education to learners and children at an early age to ensure that adequate and timely information on sexual and reproductive health and rights is accessed by both in and out-of-school youths,” she said.
Ms Mwale said NGOCC is calling on Government to prioritise school-based guidance and counselling services, including community role modelling mechanisms through the relevant ministries.
She said NGOCC is currently also engaging its network members in Eastern Province, and Lundazi in particular, to help in accelerating public sensitisation and awareness-raising interventions especially targeting the young girls on the negative effects of teenage pregnancies.
Ms Mwale said it is hoped that this sad situation will necessitate collective and more holistic focus on redressing the vulnerability of girls and young women, especially those in rural areas.
Just like NGOCC, ZANEC is equally concerned about the increasing number of schoolgirls that are getting pregnant in the country.
ZANEC’s report also states that large numbers of girls drop out of school due to ever-increasing teenage pregnancies and child marriages.
Early child pregnancies and child marriages have increased the number of out-of-school children.
The report also states that it has become increasingly important that drastic measures are put in place to bring an end to this scourge.
ZANEC states that through its interaction with the different stakeholders, inadequate boarding facilities in schools make girls susceptible to increased possibility of uninformed sexual activity, abuse and peer pressure, especially for those who are left unsupervised
To curb the vice, ZANEC suggests that parents should ensure that their children are well supervised and guided to ensure that appropriate social and cultural norms and values are instilled in them.
“It is crucial that sensitisation is increased especially in places where teenage pregnancies and early child marriages have escalated,” says ZANEC
However, Government has not paid a deaf ear to this challenge. This is why Minister of Gender Elizabeth Phiri has noted with concern that girls who fall pregnant at primary school level have a higher risk of dropping out of school with no hope of returning.
Ms Phiri said in terms of rural-urban divide, rural schools have more pregnancies than urban areas both at primary and secondary level.
It is worth noting that pregnancies still remain a challenge in the education system both at primary and secondary level. Therefore, there is need for effective remedial measures to enable girl learners complete their education.
NOMSA NKANA and SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Lusaka