Author: Elias Banda, June 23 2014 - The large number of Zambian school girls under the age of 16-years-old falling pregnant within the school system is a serious cause for concern that should make all of us to pause and seek honest answers on how to curb child pregnancy.
Reports continue filtering through about many pregnant young school girls going on maternity leave and returning to school thanks to the re-entry policy. Recent data from the Forum for African Women Educationalists of Zambia (FAWEZA) shows that the majority of the pregnant girls are from lower grades between grade one and grade nine. The figures show that more than 85% of pregnant school girls are from basic compared to less than 15% from senior secondary schools. This means that most of the sex happening at schools involves children aged between 6 and 14 years!
The statistics also show that most pregnant children have been defiled before they fell pregnant. This means that more and more children are being defiled by either those entrusted with the responsibility of teaching them or those who look after them at home or within the community system.
As society debates the merits and demerits of the re-entry policy which allows pregnant Zambian school girls to take maternity leave from school and re-enter school after giving birth, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has seized the opportunity to stimulate public and policy debate on the realities of this subject matter.
These discussions have generated a number of questions which, if addressed, could result in considerable progress being made in addressing the issue.
Some key questions asked in this debate include:
1. Which category of school girls is getting pregnant? Who is responsible for the pregnancies?
2. Who is introducing the school girls to pre-marital sex?
3. Is it pupil-to-pupil or adult-to-pupil sex (which is also child-defilement and a crime according to our statutes) resulting in these pregnancies?
4. Apart from the pregnancies that we can see, what are the other hidden effects of this unprotected sex by these immature beings?
5. How many of them have acquired STIs [sexually transmitted infections] including the HIV virus? Is it consensual or coercive sex?
6. How best can Zambians respond to these issues?
Using community radio listening clubs (RLCs), PSAf has been stimulating this kind of debate among parents, guardians, teachers, community leaders and young people to stimulate public discussion that will inform development of relevant interventions.
During a recent district stakeholders meeting, Itezhitezhi District Social Welfare Officer, Gloria Siluonde said research has shown that most children are defiled by those close to them. Most of the defilers are actually people that society expects to protect the same children they abuse. The research also showed that most defiled children were from poor families who are persuaded to release their children to wealthier relatives and neighbours, who, unfortunately, turn these girls into sex slaves.
Some stakeholders in Itezhi Tezhi have also called for the introduction of sexuality education in schools as a way of preventing teenage pregnancies and equipping young people with life skills to protect themselves. Among others, the community members recommended that the government deploy sex educators and psycho-social counsellors to work with the school administrators to prevent these early pregnancies.
There is no doubt that the re-entry policy has been given a second chance to education to many girls who would have been robbed of their opportunity to a bright future.
There is need for multi-stakeholder discussions and action to address the issue of child pregnancy at schools. There is a lot that school authorities, the community, government, civil society organisations, private sector, cooperating partners and other stakeholders can do together to address child pregnancies and save many destinies from being destroyed.
Elias Banda is PSAf Regional Programme Manager for Media Development and ICTs. For feedback, email firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog is cross-posted from the Zambia Daily Mail.