Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Health Reporter
ZIMBABWE’S teenage pregnancy rate has risen by two percent to 24 percent, with the majority being schoolgirls that are forced to drop out of school.

The worrying trend has also led to debate over access to sexual and reproductive health rights (ASHRH) services, with some lobbying that learners as young as 12 years be given a choice to use contraceptives as a measure to address teenage pregnancies.

Teenagers have under-developed pelvises which increases the risk of obstructed labour, maternal deaths, paralysis and obstetric fistula.

Early sexual engagement also increases the risk of girls suffering cervical cancer, which is the leading cancer in Zimbabwe and one of the major killer diseases among women.

Reports also show that girls drop out of school when they fall pregnant and eventually give up on their studies.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), early sexual debut and sexual abuse of the girls increases their risk to unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and psycho-social challenges in their lives.

Zimbabwe records 70 000 illegal or unsafe abortions per year and one in every five girls drops out of school due to unwanted pregnancies.

Teenage pregnancies account for more than 15 percent of maternal deaths.

The country’s teenage pregnancy rate places the country in position 28 out of 54 African countries.

Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council programme officer Ms Fadzai Mandishona said there was a need to address the growing scourge of teen pregnancies and early marriages, especially among school children.

“There has been an increase in early child bearing before age 18 from 22,4 percent in 2014 to 24,1 percent at the moment. Those with primary education have a higher birth rate which is 175 births per 1 000 girls compared to those with higher education whose birth rate is 21 births per 1 000 girls,” she said.

Ms Mandishona said the country recorded an increase in child marriages before the age of 15 from 4,9 percent in 2014 to 5,4 percent as well as an increase in child marriages before the age of 18. She said the major key drivers of these challenges are poverty, lack of access to information on ASRHR, inadequate and relevant service delivery, inadequate policy and regulatory framework.

Ms Mandishona said ZNFPC was engaging legislators with the aim of amplifying their voice and ensuring attention is paid to the issues as well as lobby for increased funding towards sexual and reproductive health rights issues.

Against this background, 24 local groups petitioned Parliament to amend the Public Health Act to allow girls aged 12 years and above access to contraceptives with or without their parents or guardians’ consent.

The Education Act, which was amended last year, makes it illegal to expel pupils that fall pregnant.

A joint thematic committee report on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on the provision of quality education, sanitisation and hygiene management in schools tabled in the Senate recently said the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has made great strides towards ensuring access to education for all.

In the report, Senator Tsitsi Muzenda said her committee had observed that the outbreak of Covid-19 had affected the effective delivery of education to learners and prolonged school closures had increased teenage pregnancies.

“Adolescent learners easily fall pregnant during their schooling days due to poverty and peer pressure. This was also worsened by the one-year break due to (the) Covid-19 pandemic with most school heads noting that the statistics were unusually high during 2020,” she said.

Senator Muzenda said although the Government policy allows such girls to continue with schooling when they fall pregnant, some of them were shy to continue under such circumstances.

This problem, she said, had negatively affected all the schools visited.

At Maqhekeni Secondary School in Bulilima, 13 girls fell pregnant during the lockdown and only two returned to continue with their education. At Madlambudzi High School in Plumtree, there were six confirmed cases of learners who dropped out as a result of pregnancy. At Mangondo Secondary School in Bikita, 60 percent of the dropouts were as a result of pregnancies.

School authorities indicated that the Covid-19 lockdown, which induced idleness, contributed to the sharp increase in teenage pregnancies. – @thamamoe

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