Teenage pregnancies rife in Mat South

A 14-year old form two drop out girl from Sikhwili Khohli secondary school in Gwanda, Senzeni Moyo (not her real name) starts her day as early as 6am every day.

Teenage pregnancies on the rise in Mat South

Teenage pregnancies on the rise in Mat South

Her daily chores begin by travelling more than four kilometres to fetch water for the family at a local communal borehole. Almost on a daily basis, Moyo shuttles between her homestead and the borehole not less than three times, carrying a bucket of water for both drinking and other purposes such as gardening, washing and livestock watering. In 2014, she was doing her form one at the secondary school but she dropped out of school in 2015 as her disabled parents could not afford money for her to continue with her schooling.

Many children in Matabeleland South are in similar and if not worse predicament with her. Widespread poverty and disruption of education services has led to the increase of pregnant teenagers and children labourers who are working in hazardous conditions as a means of survival. Young girls between the ages of 14 and 19 in the province have also been forced to engage in risky sexual activities because of hunger. According to Matabeleland South Provincial Education Director, Tumisang Thabela, 31 percent of pupils in the province who completed grade seven last year failed to proceed to form one.

Thabela cited teenage pregnancies, long distances to school and failure to pay school fees as the major reason causing pupils to abandon school at tender ages in the province. “In 2015 the province had 20 342 grade seven pupils and only 12 776 managed to enrol for form one. This gives us a transition rate of 60 percent which is a slight improvement (reduction?) from the previous year’s 67, 4 percent “ “However we should ask ourselves what happened to the 31 percent learners who did not proceed to form one. What existing skills had they gained from our education system by the time they reached grade seven to assure them of sustainable livelihoods?’” she asked rhetorically. It is widely believed among children activists and officials that the majority of girls who are dropping out of school are being married by older men and some are employed as house maids while the boys are employed in domestic service, mining and commercial farms.

Some of the teenage drop outs have now been trapped in prostitution, risking their lives to amakorokoza (illegal artisanal gold miners) who move around in the gold rich province flushing money. During a recent Matabeleland South and North media tour organized by Community Working Group on Health (CWGH), health officials told journalists that there is an increased number of teenage pregnancies in the two provinces which the officials attributed to the migration of parents to neighbouring South Africa and Botswana, leaving children vulnerable to various social ills. “We have got a number of child headed families in this area. This development has however resulted in children indulging in risky sexual behaviour. At this clinic for example, for every 20 to 18 antenatal bookings, 16 are teenagers” said Langelihle Ncube, the Sister-In – Charge of Lukala clinic in Plumtree. Recently the ministry of Health and Child Care revealed that Matabeleland South has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the county with Umzingwane cited as one of the districts worst affected. Cephas Chimhete, CWGH Communication Officer said the child care unit within the Ministry of Health should scale up anti- child pregnancy and marriage programmes. “The Ministry, through its child care unit should engage multi partners in anti-child pregnancy and marriage campaigns. There is need to embrace all sectors to raise awareness and mobilize public support especially in rural areas for the eventual elimination of young brides” said Chimhete.

Chimhete also suggested the harmonization of laws against child marriages in all ministries and departments which deals with children issues. Zimbabwe joined the AU Campaign to end child marriages in mid-2015. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development with support from UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNFPA, the Child Rights and Women’s Rights Coalitions has been working on a National Action Plan to End Child Marriages and its related communication for development activities. The Constitutional Court ruling of January 2016 has been an impetus to move the agenda forward.

All these efforts are part of the global campaign to end child marriages. Some of the organizations which are actively involved in elimination of child marriages in the province include Family Support Trust (FST) and Justice for Children (JCT). FST is involved in the “Stop child marriage campaign “in Beitbridge supporting groups of girls affected by child marriages. JCT is also engaged in community dialogue as well as the provision of legal aid services for a targeted group in Umzingwane.

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