Teenage pregnancy is a thorn in the flesh for the church in Zimbabwe with St. Joseph Chishawasha Clinic having recorded 911 pregnancies of girls below the age of 18 years in 2017. The clinic receives between 10 and 25 or more teenage pregnancies every month of girls between 12 and 19years. Most teenage pregnancies are not out of choice but are a result of a myriad of circumstances that affect the girl child. Besides cultural and religious beliefs, girls are often sacrificed in pressing economic times when they are forced to drop out of school and marry so as to bail their families out of financial problems. Teenage pregnancy is a cause for concern as it ruins the future of girls most of whom will not get a second chance to retake their education after dropping out of school.
The Sister In Charge of St. Joseph Chishawasha Clinic, Sr. Rosemary Masvimbo CJ, said the most worrying experiences were of the 11 year pregnant child doing grade 7 at a nearby school and the one of a 12 year old girl from SeedCop, Chabwino farm who dropped school in Form 1after falling pregnant. Sr. Masvimbo said early pregnancy cases were worrying as they affect girls in their tender age thereby limiting their options for the future. She said her experience at St. Joseph’s Clinic revealed that the majority of teenage pregnancies came from farms and compounds while others were a result of abuse by commuter omnibus drivers and conductors.
“The majority of teenage pregnancies within our constituency are of girls from poor families whose parents work in farms or as domestic workers. Others are result of abuses by commuter omnibus drivers and conductors who take advantage of the poor girls by offering them free rides to and from school,” said Sr. Masvimbo.
She said lack of decent accommodation especially in compounds within farming communities expose teenage girls to abuse by male neighbors and result in early pregnancy.
“Most of them stay in compounds where their parents share accommodation with commercial sex workers who expose them to illicit behaviour. Some girls are forced into teenage pregnancy because of what they see happening everyday,” Sr. Masvimbo said.
Poverty has been linked to a plethora of societal ills and it cannot be distanced as a pushing factor in teenage pregnancy. According to Sr. Masvimbo, poverty of families affects the psychological and emotional make up of most girls. She said most girls are driven into early marriage because their families cannot afford to offer them basic necessities like food, education and sanitary ware. Some families prefer to give away their daughters in exchange for food, money or cattle while others do it just to relieve pressure from the family.
Sr. Masvimbo also attributed teenage pregnancy and child marriages to poverty saying: “Children out of school because their parents cannot afford school fees see marriage as the only option to a “better life”. Most girls do not complete their basic education because of poverty of families and as a result they do not see any future as their opportunities are limited. Marriage is the only solution for most of them.”
Rituals were also cited as contributing to teenage pregnancy especially in farming communities outside Harare. Sr. Masvimbo lamented the sexual abuse of both girls and boys especially by HIV positive men and women under the guise of getting cured after sleeping with teenagers. She said this leads to high levels of teenage pregnancies and militates against efforts to fight the HIV pandemic.
She said: “It is mind boggling that HIV positive men and women believe that they get cured after sleeping with teenagers. Instead they are spreading the disease by infecting the teenagers. As a result of this, there is early pregnancy among girls and spreading of HIV among both girls and boys who are abused in this way while they are traumatized psychologically.”
Sr. Masvimbo challenged parents to override cultural and religious practices that suppress the rights of children saying some cultural and religious practices closes opportunities for girls. She said parents in farming communities should be equipped with enough knowledge that helps them to protect their children from abuses and teenage pregnancy.
“It is pathetic that there are still some cultures and religious beliefs that regard education of girls as unimportant. Some cultural practices and religious beliefs close opportunities for girls from pursuing their education,” Said Sr. Masvimbo.
The Catholic nun said orphaned girls are highly disadvantaged and prone to teenage pregnancy as they either stay alone or neglected by the extended family. She said their situation exposes them to abuses, early marriage or teenage pregnancies as they search for security.
St. Joseph Chishawasha Clinic recorded a total of 1744 pregnancies in 2017. Of the total number of pregnancies, 911 were of girls below 18years and 6 teenage pregnancies were recorded from girls below the age of 16.