Curbing teen pregnancies needs support at community level
Published On November 12, 2021 » 996 Views» By Times Reporter » Features
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.• Child marriages and teen pregnancies are degrading vices that have claimed a lot of victims in various communities.

By JULIUS PHIRI-
ADOLESCENT pregnancy is a complex socio-economic phenomenon ranking high on the global health policy agenda.
Early childbearing is associated with early marriage and dropping out of school and is defined as a problem to the health and development of girls.
According to study findings, Zambia is faced with early pregnancies, which is a serious challenge that needs substantial support at community level to deal with.
Interventions to reduce early pregnancies in rural areas require local communities to fundamentally address the material constraints that condition and reinforce a culture of early childbearing.
Early childbearing has, in the last decades, received increasing attention as a threat to the health and development of girls, besides increasing public health research that documents the health risks of early pregnancy.
Eastern Province acting Permanent Secretary Dr Royd Tembo said between January and June 2021, the province recorded 12,982 teenage pregnancies.
Dr Tembo said this is according to a report from the provincial health office.
Dr Tembo said this at a programme which was held with support from the Break Free Alliance, with funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Netherlands, in Chipata recently.
The Break Free Alliance programme is implemented by Plan International, SAT-Zambia and FAWEZA.
Dr Tembo said of the affected teenagers, 400 were girls below the age of 15, while the rest were in the age range of between 15 and 19.
He said it is also sad to note that girls are still victims of child marriage.
According to records, at least 39 per cent of girls are married off at the age of 18.
The Plan International Zambia project End Evaluation Report (2020) indicates that the major drivers of child marriages and teenage pregnancies are harmful and restrictive traditional beliefs and practices in the community.
In addition, inadequate sexuality education is also one of the contributing factors.
This is due to the fact that discussing sex issues openly is deemed taboo in the community.
Furthermore, it is widely known that cultural conceptualisation of masculinity encourages men to consider wives and daughters as their possessions or assets.
Moreover, issues surrounding Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) are perceived to only concern women and yet the men drive the decisions and negotiations around sexuality in society.
Dr Tembo said adolescents and young people face several challenges when it comes to accessing SRH rights information and services.
He said this includes SRH services that can be available but not accessible by all, and Ministry of Health staff tends to have a moralistic approach towards sexual reproductive and health rights.
He said inadequate youth-friendly services, long distances to the health facilities that provide SRH services and the few community structures which offer information to adolescents are some of the challenges faced in rural areas.
Additionally, there are challenges inherent in getting the information from the health facilities on sexual reproductive and health rights services, physical challenges, such as inadequate stocks and irregular visits of those who need services in the communities.
Dr Tembo said teenage pregnancies and child marriages pose a number of risks, which include the following:
Poor health outcomes for teenage mothers, which may result in loss
of life and obstetric fistula.
Poor health outcomes for the baby, such as stillbirth, low birth weight and medical conditions associated with poor nutrition as well as reduced education opportunities for girls as the majority of them do not return to school but focus on childcare.
Dr Tembo blamed increased chances of child marriages, because one is deemed to be ready for marriage, risks of experiencing Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in the society, and the creation of unequal power dynamics that result in loss of power to make decisions over resources and their own bodies.
“Adolescent and young people, as you may be aware, risks perpetuating the cycle of poverty and preventing young people, especially girls, from contributing and benefiting from socio-economic development in society,” he said.
Child marriages and teen pregnancies are “degrading vices” in Zambia that have claimed a lot of victims in various communities.
The vices are preventing children from realising their full potential, with girls disproportionately affected than boys.
Child marriages can be attributed to various factors, the major ones being social, cultural, economic and religious.
Some families have negligible disposable income and misguidedly marry off their children with the sole aim of receiving money in return.
Some parents forcibly marry off their teenage girls while in some instances marriage is seen as the only option for girls who fall pregnant.
The tendency of marrying off girls is also anchored on social norms that have no consideration of the long term negative effects of a child marriage.
The assumption in the communities is that once a girl is married off, she becomes a ‘woman’ even though she may be, for instance, 12-years-old.
Chief Madzimawe of the Ngoni-speaking people in Kasenengwa District called for concerted efforts from all stakeholders in order to effectively fight teenage pregnancies and child marriages in Eastern Province.
The chief urged NGOs to closely work with councillors in rural areas in the fight against teenage pregnancies and child marriages.
It was evident that girls who were forced into marriage are put at risk of death or injury during childbirth, physical, sexual and physiological violence.
Inevitably, child bride’s drop out of school and this reduces their chances of realising their full potential, besides denying them an opportunity to lead productive lives.
Child marriages and teenage pregnancies can also be said to contribute to high levels of poverty among young couples.
Plan International Zambia Project Manager Susan Mkandawire said the Break Free Project is targeted at promoting Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) among adolescents and young people as a way of preventing the increase of teenage pregnancies.
Ms Mkandawire said under the Break Free Project, there is an aspect of adolescents and young people receiving correct information regarding SRH, with support from other stakeholders.
The Government believes that the future of economic development of the country is vested in the hands of educated young people.
It is for this reason that at national level, the country has some stringent laws and policies in place aimed at protecting the rights of children, adolescents and young people who need to apply without compromise.

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