DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
THE need to bring boys who impregnate their fellow teenage girls to face up to the consequences of their actions has become more apparent in society.
At a meeting recently held by Ipas Zambia at Taj Pamodzi recently, participants felt that girls suffer more when they are impregnated than the boys who are responsible.
Feminist and gender expert Sarah Longwe believes that the current societal trends where girls shoulder most of the blame for teenage pregnancy gives teen fathers a way of escape from their consequences.
Ms Longwe, who is also Non-Governmental Organisations’ Coordinating Council (NGOCC) board chairperson believes that consequences of teenage pregnancy should not only land on girls in cases where the girl is impregnated by a fellow teenage boy.
“There is, therefore, an urgent radical set of change to the systems of preventing teenage pregnancy and support for teenage parents and this should begin from a home,” Ms Longwe says.
She argues that there is too, unfair discrimination when it comes to cautioning teenagers against sexual behaviours as messages only target girls.
Ms Longwe believes that a crackdown on teen fathers and a huge publicity campaign to tell young people how hard it is to be a parent and how easy it is to get pregnant should be mooted.
According to the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) 2013-2014, the adolescent birth rate countrywide stood at 146 births per 1000 girls at 15-19 years, giving about 29 percent of adolescent girls in Zambia become pregnant before the age of 18.
She suggests that society needs to dispel the ignorance that surrounds sex and make them know the fact that looking after a baby when they are still dependents is a hard task.
“They are surrounded by sexual imagery without reference to the responsibilities associated with sexual activity,” Ms Longwe says.
Ms Longwe adds, “Just as importantly, we need to ensure that boys are made aware that fatherhood is not a one-night stand, but a long-term responsibility”.
Society has treated girls who got pregnant like they did so on their own and this is the attitude that has to change in order to lighten the burden, stigma, agony that teen mothers go through.
For Ms Longwe, teenage pregnancy is not right.
Teenage pregnancy undermines girls’ human rights and compromises their opportunity to fully realise their socio-economic development potential.
Ipas Zambia country director Grace Tambatamba-Chiyaba says there is an increase in unwanted pregnancies among teenagers and this has resulted in many teenagers opting for unsafe abortion.
“Comprehensive sex education to young people is vital in efforts to improve their health and dignity, and in turn contribute positively to building a strong foundation for responsible citizenry,” Ms Chiyaba says.
And Zambia National Men’s Network chairperson Nelson Banda acknowledges that teenage pregnancy is rife in communities in Zambia and only girls seem to be at the centre of the blame.
For Mr Banda, the urgent strategy in bringing boys into the circle is by having a national publicity campaign to warn boys and girls of the dangers of teenage pregnancy.
“A cross-stakeholder task force on teenage pregnancy and maybe help lines offering pregnancy and relationship advice to young people is urgently needed. We also need teenage parents to teach their peers the hardships of early pregnancy,” Mr Banda says.
And a once-upon-a-time teenage mother, Bessy Chilekwa now 21, says arguments from society that sex education increased sexual activity are bogus.
Ms Chilekwa, who became a mother at 17 says teenage parents should not be punished but supported so that they did not become marginalised.
“They say life is a greatest teacher and I agree to this adage because through my experience as a teen mother, I have learnt that teen pregnancy is disgraceful. It comes with very harsh realities. I say so because currently, very few teenage mothers receive maintenance from the fathers of their children,” Ms Chilekwa says.
Ms Chilekwa’s wish is the establishment of reforms that will ensure that boys who fathered children were tracked down and forced to pay for maintenance.
Most teenage mothers come to learn of the consequences of being a teenage mother when it is too late to stop the impact.
Concern about the spate of father absence and its effects on children’s well-being has led to a growing focus on fathers in family interventions, although there is relative silence on teenage fathers.
Various stakeholders now feel that there is an urgent need to bring boys and teen fathers on board as a way of bringing teenage pregnancy levels down.
DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka