Tendai Rupapa Senior Reporter
EARLY and unintended pregnancies are forcing a number of girls out of school, a development that denies them rights to education and shutter their dreams to meaningfully contribute to economic development. Statistics from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education show that last year a total of 6 748 learners dropped out of school due to pregnancy and early marriages.
Among them, 411 were at primary school level. Last week, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa mobilised churches and interacted with youths in Epworth discussing the dangers associated with early marriages, prostitution, drug abuse and other vices.
Yesterday, she officially launched a national campaign against early and unintended pregnancies as part of measures to empower the girl child.
Addressing young ones at Makomo Primary School in Epworth yesterday, Amai Mnangagwa said the rights to health, education and gender equality were at the heart of the campaign dubbed; “Let’s talk pregnancy at the right time”.
The campaign is a product of a partnership between the Government of Zimbabwe and United Nations bodies responsible for the welfare of children.
Amai Mnangagwa, who is the country’s Health Ambassador, said early pregnancy exposes girls to harsh social sanctions.
This, she added, subjects the girls to stigma among family members and peers.
“It is a sobering fact that early and unintended pregnancy is a national health, social problem and development challenge. Factors associated with early and unintended pregnancy include age, ethnicity, marital status and alcohol/drug abuse, knowledge of pregnancy prevention, orphanhood, religion, peer pressure, poverty, harmful socio-cultural practices such as early or forced marriages, sexual abuse and social media,” she said.
The First Lady hailed Government for formulating policies and laws that provides for re-admission of victims into schools after giving birth.
“The school re-entry policy allows pregnant girls to return to school after delivery.
“I am told there are efforts to codify this progressive policy into law through the Education Amendment Bill, which is currently before Parliament,” she said.
She also referred to the non-formal education policy, which gives a second chance to adolescent mothers who fall pregnant at early stages.
However, the First Lady denounced early pregnancy and urged girls to wait for the right time. The First Lady said the campaign seeks to advocate for increased access to sexual and reproductive health services for all adolescents without judgment and or discrimination.
“Let us all amplify our voices against early and unintended pregnancies in churches, schools, health centres, community meetings, workplaces and social spaces,” the First Lady said.
Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Professor Paul Mavhima said the “Let’s Talk!” campaign came at the right time when his ministry is implementing a cocktail of interventions that respond directly to the plight of the girl child.
He gave statistics of the number of drop outs last year due to pregnancy and marriage reasons.
“My ministry therefore fully embraces the Let’s Talk! campaign as we seek lasting solutions to eliminate early and unintended pregnancies in the country,” he said.
“The ministry has a gross enrolment of 4,5 million learners, almost a third of the country’s population. Sadly, under-aged pregnancies and the undesirable phenomenon of child marriages have affected some of the learners in our schools.”
Minister Mavima further proposed that the First Lady be appointed education ambassador in line with the efforts she has made to improve the life of the girl child in its totality.
UNESCO representative to SADC Professor Hubert Gijzen said for the education sector to respond to early and unintended pregnancy, it should provide comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) that develops knowledge, changes attitudes and informs positive behaviour.
He also said there was need to strengthen linkages between schools and health services and to also teach boys about pregnancy and violence prevention.
Also present at the launch of the campaign were Health and Child Care minister Dr Obadiah Moyo, Minister of State for Harare Province Senator Oliver Chidawu and representatives of Plan International, Irish Aid, SIDA, Embassy of Sweden and UNFPA.