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War on shocking teen pregnancies

by Staff reporter
05 Jun 2022 at 09:01hrs | Views
SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD Tawananyasha (surname withheld) is six months pregnant with a man whose real name and age she does not know.

The two met when the minor was a housemaid while the man was a gardener in Bindura.

However, after two months of dating she discovered she was pregnant.

Upon breaking the news to him, he denied responsibility before vanishing from her life.

Misery continued to pile up for Tawananyasha as she also lost her job.

"His former employers say they do not know where he disappeared to since he was not a live-in helper. However, we all knew him as More and do not have any further details," she said before breaking down in tears.

"My parents are both late and I have two siblings in Darwendale to take care of. We are currently surviving from hand-to-mouth. After delivery, I have to find a job again."

Fifteen-year-old Paidamoyo from Epworth also finds herself between a rock and a hard place.

She had to drop out of school in March after discovering she was four months pregnant.

She is the first born in a family of three.

Her mother is a widow and survives on menial jobs.

The expecting teenager has since resorted to piece jobs to raise money to prepare for the baby's arrival.

"We offer cleaning services, mainly laundry, and also do any other job around the community. We often get about US$15 per week for our services. The guy who is responsible for my pregnancy used to work as a brick moulder near Overspill and used to tell me he is from Bikita. However, he has since disappeared," said Paidamoyo.

She no longer has plans to return to school as she cannot afford fees.

Taking care of her yet-to-be-born child, she added, would be a priority.

Shocking prevalence

Teen pregnancies have become disturbingly prevalent. A report by the Government last year revealed that 4 959 teenagers were impregnated between January and February (2021), while an additional 1 774 got into early marriages. Most cases were recorded in rural, farming and mining areas.

Affected girls drop out of school, which further creates challenges not only for them, but the children they give birth to. The Government has since stepped in to avert potential disaster.

"Efforts are being made to strengthen child protection co-ordination at district and community levels to provide a multi-sectoral safety net for teenagers," revealed Mr Tawanda Zimhunga, director for social development in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare.

"We are also fortifying sustainable livelihood programmes to strengthen household economies and reduce cases of adolescent girls turning to dysfunctional habits of survival that lead to early pregnancies."

The Constitutional Court recently ruled that the legal age of consent for sex should be raised to 18 from 16.

The court struck down provisions in the Criminal Law that set the age of consent for sex at 16 as unconstitutional.

The judgement was welcomed by many, as teen pregnancies are forcing hundreds of girls out of school.

The Government is in the process of amending the Children's Act (Chapter 5:06) to address various gaps and ensure effective implementation of provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

The proposed Children's Bill (Section 8:9) will make it an offence to allow or cause a child to participate in sexual grooming or to cause a child to participate in sexual activities. Furthermore, parenting initiatives and family clubs are being rolled out around communities in the country.

The programmes aim to mitigate sexual exploitation and abuse cases.

They are also expected to enhance parenting skills and care for children.

"There is provision of psychosocial support and counselling to the affected adolescents and their families. The sessions are conducted to support the girl's emotional needs, reduce the impact of trauma during the pregnancy as well as after the pregnancy," added Mr Zimhunga.

"We also have a case-management system whereby files are kept and feedback mechanisms, including follow-up on the child(ren), is possible. Probation officers in the Department of Social Development are expected to walk the child all the way until their detrimental situation has been resolved."

Neglect and poverty

Organisations such as Girl Child Network, Girl Guide Association of Zimbabwe (GGAZ), RhoNaFlo, Tawananyasha neRudo reckon most children enter into early marriages or sexual activities due to neglect and poverty.

"I am an orphan. I was left in the custody of my aunt, but she was cruel. She did not give us food or even pay for our school fees. I was then introduced to prostitution by a friend. I managed to make a few dollars,  but I am now pregnant," said a 15-year-old who has since been taken in by one of the organisations.

Her colleague weighed in: "I was chased away from home after I fell pregnant. I had everything. My parents were taking good care of me, but I decided to engage in sexual activities out of curiosity. I spent most of my time idle due to the long school break and needed something to kill the boredom," said Petronella (17), who is now seven months pregnant.

However, Mr Zimhunga said there was need to make sure the affected teens were assisted to get their lives back on course while making sure the teenage pregnancy scourge is curbed.

For instance, access to education has been made possible for the group through the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM).

"Under the programme, children who would have dropped out due to pregnancy are supported with school fees, uniforms and stationery to enable them to return to school.

"There is also access to financial assistance through the harmonised cash transfers to strengthen vulnerable household economies and ensure children's needs are catered for within the auspices of their home, and the access to food through the Food Deficit Mitigation Strategy programme," he said.

A tear-jerking video of at least 11 expecting teenagers seeking assistance from the public for them to access healthcare for safe delivery has been trending on social media. The teens from RhoNaFlo Foundation are aged between 15 and 17.

The foundation has registered at least 165 cases of teen pregnancies in the past year, with most cases being recorded in Harare and Mashonaland Central.

Shamwari Yemwanasikana had 234 cases in 2021 and at least 100 more recorded this year. Darwendale-based Tawananyasha neRudo Foundation also has more than 100 teen mothers in their records.

"Most of these pregnancies are a result of idleness due to dropping out of school for various reasons. My wish is to give them food packs that can last them at least a month as well as set up programmes that promote self-sufficiency and keep them busy. Some of them also need to go back to school," notes Tawananyasha neRudo Foundation founder Tina Tungamirai.

The foundation is mobilising resources and assisting the teenagers with maternity preparation hampers, groceries and at least a meal per day through their soup kitchen.

It has introduced some of them to projects like horticulture and soap- and detergent-making.

Proper parenting

Idleness as a result of the Covid-19-induced lockdown has largely been blamed for driving teen pregnancies.

However, some argue the new trend is caused by the dearth of proper parenting.

"Parents are neglecting their children for various reasons and tasking domestic workers to look after them. At times the children are exposed to adult content on television or the internet. They in turn end up experimenting," said Nyekete.

Mai Panashe from Marondera said she was in an unenviable situation.

"I have to work and look after the kids at the same time but that is proving difficult.

"The best I can do is make sure I feed and clothe them, and they have to reciprocate by behaving well. I have no one to task with looking after them when I am not home since I am a single mother."

The Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey for 2016 and 2017 revealed that at least a quarter of local females get pregnant before they reach 18.

In some cases, the teenagers opt for abortion.

"Traditionally, children were raised by extended families and communities, hence there was little to no room for deviance. It was an entire community's responsibility to make sure a child was protected from all social ills, but family and community ties broke down along the way for various reasons, which has left minors exposed," argued veteran actress Jesesi Mungoshi.

Legal expert at Justice for Children Trust Petronella Nyamapfeni agrees.

"Parents and guardians need to revisit their normative roles. They must also strike a balance between work and parenting. For us to win this battle, it is key to understand the family unit, give power
back to the extended family or community because it takes everyone to raise a
child. The law alone cannot triumph," she said.

HIV/AIDS advocate Tariro Kutadza said the missing link between programmers and parents has fuelled the scourge.

She reckons sexual reproductive discussions need to involve parents and that facilitators should not use language that motivates teenagers to indulge in sexual activities.

Source - The Sunday Mail