Teenage mothers denied education

At 17, Julia Gijima should be in her final year in secondary school, but three years ago she had to leave school to give birth and then nurse a child.

Stigma and discrimination by teachers are reported as two of the main reasons teenage mothers abandon their education.

Stigma and discrimination by teachers are reported as two of the main reasons teenage mothers abandon their education.

Today, she finds herself in form three with 15- year-olds. Approximately  3,000 Zimbabwean girls leave school every year due to pregnancy, according to research released by the Centre for the Study of Adolescence, a non-governmental organisation that works on reproductive health, gender and social policy for teenagers.
“A teacher in my former school was responsible but he denied that he even knew my name!”

Gijima told The Zimbabwean in a recent interview. Her son, now aged three, lives with her mother in Budiriro.
“My classmates in my former school  laughed at me when they realised I was pregnant,” Gijima said.

Peace of mind

“They even drew cartoons to illustrate my condition on the blackboard just to ridicule me. It was really stressful and when my mother insisted that I go back to school after taking care of my son for two years, I cried. By then I had given up my dream of becoming a lawyer one day.”

But she agreed to resume her studies when her mother enrolled her in a different school. Her small body does not easily give away her age and none of her new classmates know she is a mother, which allows her peace of mind to concentrate on her studies.
Investigations reveal that pregnancy,  along with early marriage, poverty and preferential treatment for boys,  is a major factor in the high dropout rate for girls.

Stigma and discrimination by teachers are reported as two of the main reasons teenage mothers abandon their education. Many head teachers expel girls immediately their pregnancy is discovered. “Many schools prefer to expel pregnant girls who are seen as a bad influence on other girls in the school,” said Rosemary Sibanda a teacher at Harare High School.

Most girls lack support from parents, teachers or their classmates to challenge the expulsion. They may also feel they deserve to be punished or feel too shy to re-join their classmates.

The brightest

Nineteen-year- old Rhoda Maisiri left school when she became pregnant during her first year in secondary school. “I lost an opportunity then. My classmates who passed examinations are now in first year at university. I know I too could have been in university because I was among the brightest in my class but then this happened,” she said.

After the birth of her child, Maisiri wanted to continue with her education, but her parents wouldn’t hear of it; instead they blamed her for wasting money. “My father reminds me all the time that I owe him money the fees he paid just to make me feel bad,” Maisiri said. “My hope is to educate my daughter to the highest level. For me, my time of going to school is up and now my hope lies in marriage.”

Research shows that social activists advocate for a Return-to-School policy that encourages the establishment of centres where young mothers can continue with their formal education while breast-feeding their babies.

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