By JOWIT SALUSEKI –
AFRICA has continued to grab headlines for all the wrong reasons as the continent has again scored the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world.
According to a latest report released on December 30, 2015, some 18 African countries appear on a United Nations (UN) list of 20 countries with the highest teenage pregnancies in the world.
Countries in Africa have the highest teen pregnancy rates with the oil rich but impoverished nation of Niger topping the list at 203.604 births per 100,000 teenage women.
Following Niger is Mali, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea, Chad, Malawi and Cote d’Ivoire.
In several of these countries, teenage marriages are the major cause of subsequent teenage pregnancies.
Baby mortality rates are also typically higher in these countries, due to both insufficient medical infrastructure and increased risks associated with these younger women bearing children.
There are also the added burdens of malnutrition, famine, war and pestilence that are rampant across several countries making the top of this list.
War in particular adds to teenage pregnancy rates due to the sad reality of the invading soldiers who rape local women.
South Africa’s education ministry is now considering policies to introduce long-term contraception to school-going teenagers as a way of curtailing teenage pregnancies.
Zambia, like most of the Third World countries, has also been grappling with the burden of ending teenage pregnancies and child marriages with thousands of school going children getting pregnant year in, year out.
In most African communities, teen pregnancies and child marriages is deeply rooted and has been perpetuated through poverty, traditional and cultural beliefs, especially in rural areas.
Studies in most countries on the African continent have revealed that at least 30 per cent of all the girls are married before the age of 18.
The children of teenage mothers are also disadvantaged themselves in a number of ways. First of all, infant mortality rates are higher among teenage mothers’ children.
Due to an increased risk of developmental problems, these children often also have lessened motor and language skills in childhood than do their age mates born from older mothers.
For this reason, teenage pregnancy should be seen as a problem in need of addressing and action in developing nations and the developed world alike to secure better futures for children across the globe.
Thus the high number of young wives led to the African Union (AU) to launch a two-year campaign to end child marriages as a remedy to this unfortunate phenomenon that has continued to dog the African continent.
This campaign is aimed at ensuring that member states develop appropriate policy actions that would raise awareness and understanding of the problem of under–age pregnancies and marriages.
The AU has taken a step further by advising member states to accordingly enforce laws that generally protect children from being
Further, in its latest report, the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also warned that numbers of women married as child brides in Africa could more than double to 310 million by 2050 if current trends continue.
In the report, the UN agency found that while the percentage of women married as children has dropped in Africa during the recent decades, the rate of reduction is still too slow when combined with the fast pace of population growth projected for the continent.
Currently, 34 per cent of young women of ages 20-24 living in Africa were married before the age of 16, a decrease from 44 per cent in 1990.
Presently, there are 125 million African women who were minors when married. However, with the number of girls on the continent expected to rise from 275 million to date to 465 million by 2050, the number of women married as children is projected to reach 310 million, surpassing South Asia as the region with the most child marriages.
UNICEF called for stepping up efforts to halt the practice of child marriages, noting that if the current pace of reduction is doubled, the number of child brides can be kept at 150 million by 2050.
Young women married as child brides are at an increased risk of being victims of violence, contracting HIV and dropping out of school. Girls married early face higher risk of health complications from childbirth and their children are more likely to be stillborn or die shortly after birth than those born to old mothers.
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said the huge numbers of girls affected underlines the urgency of banning the practice of child marriage once and for all.
The AU estimates that about 14 million under-age girls are married on the continent each year –almost all of them forced to by their
parents, often against laws that are rarely enforced.
Child marriage is a human rights violation that robs girls of their rights to health, to live in security and to choose if, when and whom to marry.
Searing poverty has been one of the driving forces behind early marriages, while traditional customs also play a significant role.
In Africa some of the highest rates of under- age marriage are in Mauritania, Niger, Chad, and the Central African Republic while
Nigeria has 23 million child brides.
Last year, Zambia hosted a two-day conference for the first ever African Girls’ Summit to end child marriages in Africa from 26-27
November, 2015 at the New Government Complex in Lusaka.
The occasion witnessed delegates from other African countries that included first ladies of South Africa and Ethiopia. Selected
traditional leaders from within Zambia who are themselves custodian of customary laws were also in attendance.
Officiating at the event, President Edgar Lungu said among other measures that the Government has come up with includes reviewing the
Marriage Act, Gender Equity and Equality Bill and Children’s Code Bill, among others.
“These pieces of legislation would ensure that our children are protected from child marriages and other related gender-based vices
and will provide an environment for girls to fully realise their potential and contribute to the country’s much needed development,”
President Lungu said.
The Government has also constituted a consortium of 11 ministries to spearhead the campaign against child marriages. These include,
ministries of Labour and Social Security; Youth, Sport and Child Development; Higher and General Education; Chiefs and Traditional
Affairs; Health, Local Government and Housing; Community Development and Social Welfare; Home Affairs; Justice and Gender.
Charity Mwansa 53, a trader from Masala market in Ndola, says the issue of increased teenage pregnancies and child marriages was
critical and needed concerted effort by all stake holders especially in rural areas where the vice has taken centre stage.
Greenwell Sinkolongwe from Kitwe implored the youths to refrain from engaging in sexual activities.
He also advising parents to desist from engaging in practices of marrying off under-age girls and allow young women to go to school so that they can contribute meaningfully to the national development.