The problems of teenage pregnancy
Sekai Nzenza on Wednesday
Mother and daughter, mai nemwana, arrived in our village homestead at midnight on Good Friday. They knocked on our kitchen hut, where Mbuya Chigondo sleeps. Mbuya switched her small solar light and took some time to get up. At 90 or more years old, Mbuya Chigondo manages to move around with the assistance of a walking stick.
She was my mother’s best friend. Before our mother died, she said we should look after Mbuya Chigondo.
Since Mbuya Chigondo did not have any children of her own, we have since asked her to come and live with us in order to give her elderly sister a break.
Knowing fully well that Mbuya Chigondo was in the kitchen hut (because she prefers to sleep near the fireplace), the mother and daughter kept on knocking and telling Mbuya not to be afraid.
“It is me, Mai Sifelani with Sifelani,” said Mai Sifelani, making herself known to Mbuya.
These two are our neighbours from the next village, about five kilometres away, further down towards Dengedza Mountain. Struggling to unlock the door, Mbuya asked why the two women had come to our homestead so late at night. They did not answer. Sifelani only groaned in pain.
Mbuya let them in. Then Sifelani threw herself on Mbuya’s blankets.
Mbuya noticed that her face was swollen and she had a red eye. Her arms showed some bruising. She lay on Mbuya’s sleeping mat crying softly.
Mai Sifelani said Sifelani had been beaten by her father. Mbuya did not ask why. She already knew the reason.
Then Mbuya asked Mai Sifelani to boil some water in the kettle so they could do some hot sponging on the swollen face and bruised arms.
While the water boiled, Mbuya left them alone and walked slowly to my house, a few metres away. She tapped on the door with her stick and said, “Muka, kwauya vayeni,” Wake up, we have visitors.
Under the half crescent moon, Mbuya and I walked to the kitchen hut.
Halfway there, Mbuya stopped and whispered that the whole village knew that Sifelani was pregnant. Although she had tried to conceal it, that which has horns cannot be hidden under a bushel. Rine manyanga hariputirwe.
I had heard of the pregnancy rumour. Stories about teenage pregnancies are very common around our rural area.
Almost every school term we hear that one teenager has dropped out of school due to pregnancy. Sifelani is only 16 and she was in Form Three.
For some months, people said Sifelani often departed from the other girls on the way home from school and took a different route.
Somewhere along her secret route, she met her boyfriend Alec, who is 21 and unemployed. Sifelani’s mother tried so many times to warn her against the risks of such behaviour. Boys can ruin your studies, she said. Being alone with a boy in the bush can lead to temptation. You can end up having unplanned sexual relations. This can then lead to pregnancy or diseases such as HIV and AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases.
But Sifelani did not listen. Her mother gave up and said, wait, when your father comes back from Johannesburg where he works, he was certainly going to give her a good beating.
Before the father arrived for the Easter break, Sifelani’s pregnancy was already showing. Alec was nowhere to be seen.
Some people said he had crossed the border into South Africa.
Others said he was somewhere living with his uncle in the resettlement areas around Chivhu where most of the people from our part of Chikomba East come from.
Soon after the evening meal, the father ordered the younger children to go to bed while he stayed with Sifelani and her mother in the kitchen hut.
Mai Sifelani gave him a briefing about the local village news, the crops and the current harvest. Then the father abruptly interrupted her and asked if everything was going well around the homestead.
Mai Sifelani said yes, they were all very well. The father asked the same question again, this time his eyes focused on Sifelani who sat with half her body hidden behind the kitchen door.
“I have asked if everyone is well. The answer I am given is yes. So, I shall find out for myself if everyone in this house is well,” he said.
Then he got up and pulled Sifelani by the hand. She was forced to stand up. Her bulging tummy said it all. The father slapped her hard and she fell.
Mai Sifelani threw herself over Sifelani, shielding her from another blow.
“Did I pay school fees for this? Did I buy uniforms and books in order to get napkins?” Baba Sifelani shouted with anger. He kicked the logs in the fire and sat down.
“Get out of here, both of you! Mai Sifelani, take your daughter out of my sight. I do not want to kill anyone. All my school fees have gone to nothing!” he shouted.
Mai Sifelani pulled Sifelani up and the two of them left the kitchen hut.
They both knew that when Baba VaSifelani was angry, he would strike again. They walked to our homestead in the dark.
“Usacheme mwanawe, handiwe watanga kubata nhumbu pazera rako,” said Mbuya Chigondo, soothing Sifelani. Do not cry, child. You are not the first one to get pregnant at such a young age. Mbuya told Sifelani to remove the various layers covering her stomach.
She made her lie down and palpated her, as midwives do. Then she laughed and said, “Ah, yave kuda kutozvarwa iyi.” She is almost full term. Sifelani sat there pressing a warm towel against her swollen face.
Sifelani is among many teenage girls falling pregnant in Zimbabwe.
According to one recent report, Zimbabwe has the highest number of teenagers falling pregnant in sub-Saharan Africa. This study said one out of 10 girls between the age of 15 and 19 falls pregnant every year.
Young girls like Sifelani living in rural areas do not understand the use of contraceptives or how to practice safe sex.
Since girls are culturally not expected to be engaging in sex, parents generally do not provide adequate and informed education required protecting them from getting pregnant or contracting diseases. In most cases, the parents would have little education on the prevention methods anyway.
“Tell me, how was I supposed to stop this pregnancy?” Mai Sifelani asked, in desperation, looking at me.
Back in the village, when I was growing up, issues of sexuality were not discussed between mother and daughter.
It was the role of aunt, tete or father’s sister to provide such knowledge. It was tete’s responsibility to ensure that girls were taught and instructed on matters to do with puberty, courtship and the process of marriage.
In our case, any taboo subjects that could not be shared with our mother, we discussed with tete, while our brothers shared similar issues with sekuru, our mother’s brother.
In those days, the word “sex” was not mentioned freely and openly as we do now. Single girls who became pregnant quickly informed their tete and secret arrangements were made for them to elope to the future husband’s family.
Then a whole process was followed leading to marriage or lobola.
These days, the role of tete is almost gone.
According to Population Services Zimbabwe teenage pregnancy is as high as 22 percent in the country due to lack of knowledge regarding sexual reproductive health services.
The youth, both boys and girls, need access to information in an environment where they are free and comfortable to learn. This poor access to knowledge leads to lack of monitoring regarding the health of the young mother and her baby. As a result, the high number of deaths among young mothers giving birth in Zimbabwe is very alarming.
Although health centres in Zimbabwe have plenty of information on sexual and reproductive health, the youth do not freely volunteer to seek that information.
“Why did you not go to the clinic and get preventive methods?” I asked Sifelani.
She said that one time she managed to enter the clinic, but was too embarrassed to ask for pills or condoms.
“Heya, manje wochiita sei manje?” asked Mbuya, meaning, now what are you going to do.
Mai Sifelani said they would both sleep on the mat with Mbuya. When daylight approached, Mbuya and I would go along with them and help as the mediators between Sifelani and her father. We did.
He was very angry for some time. After he calmed down, I watched him quietly drink a mug of tea and eat sweet potatoes. Then he turned to me and said, “Chihera, these teenage pregnancies can only be prevented with real health information and more teaching about our good values, or hunhu hwedu, to the teenagers.”
Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic