- Rosemary Nalisa
The high incidence of teenage pregnancies in the country, and the Zambezi Region in particular, has become a matter of concern for the community and men in the area are calling for the focus and conversation to shift and include the boy-child and men in general.
Some of the factors contributing to teenage pregnancies have been identified as structural poverty, disorganised or poor hostel facilities at the various high schools, and the abuse of alcohol and drugs among learners. A community mobiliser and activist on HIV in the region, Valks Mayamba, agrees with the general sentiment. He has called for more to be done to educate men, young and old, about the negative effects of teenage pregnancies on the socio-economic development of the region and the country as a whole.
He also expressed concern for what he sees as the spirit of materialism that is common among the youth, whereby their craving for expensive clothes and phones pushes young girls into complicated sexual relationships with older men or young boys from well-off families. Mayamba adds that such relationships expose the teenage girls to dangers of contracting sexually transmitted infections or falling pregnant because they are not in a position to negotiate safe sex. “As a country we need to re-look at the various laws and programmes on teenage pregnancies and amend where possible in consultation with the main stakeholders such as the education system, parents, church and traditional leaders as well as the boys and girls.”
“As a country we need to re-look at the various laws and programmes on teenage pregnancies and amend where possible in consultation with the main stakeholders such as the education system, parents, church and traditional leaders as well as the boys and girls.”Valks Mayamba, community mobiliser in the Zambezi Region.
Others have noted that makeshift hostel facilities, sometimes known as ‘home service’, contribute to the problem as the learners housed in these facilities are often left completely unsupervised and thus vulnerable to abuse.
However, a certain amount of context is often missing from complaints about materialistic women and girls; older, wealthy men are often the ones using their financial power to prey on and exploit economically marginalised young women.
Our collective tendency to blame young girls and women instead of the men knowingly engaging in risky sexual behaviours – often with minors – is another way that men and boys escape responsibility for the teenage pregnancy crisis.
Perpetrators and predators are largely being left out of the conversation. And even when teenage pregnancy is the result of consensual sex between schoolgoing teenagers, the responsibilities of learner mothers outweigh those of fathers by far.
The learner pregnancy policy
The Education Sector Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy, commonly referred to as the learner pregnancy policy, is a policy document developed by the Ministry of Education in 2012 to address the issue of teenage pregnancy. The focus on prevention as well as flexible management procedures was meant to give learner parents – boys and girls – the necessary support throughout the pregnancy, and in returning to school.
Despite claiming to engage with both learner mothers and learner fathers, the majority of interventions focus on the pregnant learner, which further reinforces the idea that mothers (no matter their age) are ultimately responsible for pregnancies and childcare.
John Likando, Councillor for the Kabbe South Constituency in the Zambezi Region, expressed concern at what he considers the discriminatory exclusion of the boy-child in the programmes that are given to his partner. “We must review the government policy on teenage pregnancy and retention of girls in school as soon as possible to include programmes for boys who are currently getting off scot-free and at times continue impregnating more girls,” says Likando.
Yolanda Lisho is the Chief Social Worker at the Zambezi Health Directorate. Regarding the involvement of men in the counselling sessions, Lisho noted that this scenario is very rare, while in some instances the girls refuse to disclose information related to their partners. “We had only two cases since the beginning of the year where teenage fathers were also involved. Most of the teenage mothers referred to our offices have absent fathers [from] which they receive no support at all, while some are not willing to reveal the identity of the fathers.”
“We had only two cases since the beginning of the year where teenage fathers were also involved. Most of the teenage mothers referred to our offices have absent fathers [from] which they receive no support at all, while some are not willing to reveal the identity of the fathers.”Yolanda Lisho, Chief Social Worker at the Zambezi Health Directorate
Meanwhile, there is a general feeling among service providers in the region that the approach to teenage pregnancy issue is currently disjointed, excluding the boys or men impregnating the girls. Another factor is unreliable data, which in many cases excludes pregnant teenage girls who are not attending school. Many have emphasised the need for a new collaborative and targeted approach that will cover all players including parents and caregivers in all counselling and supportive programmes, currently given by the government and non-governmental organisations.
The Director of the Caprivi Organisation for Community Action and Development (COCAD), Fabian Sampaya has described the teenage pregnancy situation in the Zambezi Region as a very complicated issue which needs to be tackled by everyone – especially at household level. “We are talking about young people today but this is a recipe for disaster which will result in more broken and single-headed households that will result in more financial instability at household levels, especially in these hard economic times,” says Sampaya.
He is of the opinion that some poverty-stricken households are encouraging teenage girls to engage in sexual activities in order to get money to support their family. He is calling on social workers to do more in giving the relevant counselling to the teenagers as well as strengthening the engagement with boys and men. “This whole situation is creating a bad precedent for the future of this country. Those who have money must also be engaged in order to discourage the ‘sugar daddy’ syndrome,” says Sampaya.
There is no easy way to address teenage pregnancy in this country, but one thing is clear: men and boys need to take a seat at the table, and take ownership of the role they play. The time for their silence has long passed.
Rosemary Nalisa is a communications consultant and freelance journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.
Images contributed by Rosemary Nalisa