Dilemma of a pregnant girl in Southern Province


MARY Hambulo (not real name) of Zimba district who was made pregnant by a classmate is in a dilemma following her acceptance to Grade 10 this year.
By the time Hambulo, who is six months pregnant, gives birth, her friends will have advanced into the second term.
She would like to continue with her school after she gives birth but she has no money to pay for her school requirements. She knows acquiring an education is the only way she will be able to take care of her child.
The pupil who impregnated her has denied responsibility and has continued going to school. According to Hambulo, the young man has even stopped communicating with her.
“It is so painful to be rejected by somebody who once claimed to have been in love with me. Since I cannot change the situation, I have decided to soldier on until a time the baby will be born,” Hambulo said in a telephone interview.
Government introduced the re-entry policy in 1997 aimed at re-admitting girls who fall pregnant while at school.
Ministry of General Education permanent secretary Chishimba Nkosha, however, warned that government will not allow abuse of the policy from girls who recklessly conduct themselves and fall pregnant just because the policy allows them to be re-admitted into school.
“The responsibility remains with the girls and parents; the ministry has been accused of encouraging immorality among girls because of the policy. I want to make it clear that the aim of the policy is to ensure that girls have an opportunity to get educated just like boys,” Mr Nkosha said.
And Mr Nkosha has advised girls to expose people who take advantage of them and impregnate them. For teachers found guilty, it is instant dismissal while for a fellow pupil stiff disciplinary measures are taken.
He said it is sad that many girls opt to remain quiet and protect people who take advantage of them for reasons best known to themselves.
Mr Nkosha is saddened that teenage pregnancies have continued to be the main driver of high school drop-outs among girls.
“Findings indicate that even teachers stigmatise girls who go back to school by calling them bad names such as mothers. My appeal is for the girls subjected to this to report such teachers so that appropriate disciplinary action is taken,” he said.
He said in case of Hambulo, she should hold on to her acceptance letter until she is ready to go back to school and she will be accommodated.
Mr Nkosha said girls who are uncomfortable to go back to the same school should inform his ministry so that they can be sent to other schools. If they cannot find space in the morning classes, they can be accommodated in the Afternoon Production Unit (APU).
The author met Hambulo in Zimba last year when she was four months pregnant, and at that time she had not yet informed her father about her condition. She was scared of what he was going to do to her because she is an only child, especially that her parents are peasant farmers who have been struggling to raise her school fees.
This year, her mother called to inform the author that Hambulo had made it to grade 10 and was willing to go back to school but had no money and her pregnancy has advanced, hindering her from going back to school.
Hambulo’s mother is willing to look after the baby by remaining with it at home so that her daughter can continue with education.
Fortunately, the re-entry policy allows young mothers to stay home for a year to take care of the babies and regain their strength to go back to school.
“We encourage exclusive breastfeeding as mandated by the Ministry of Health, that is why we do not allow the mothers to go back to school immediately after they deliver,” Mr Nkosha said.
And a Ugandan International Gender and Development consultant Aramanzan Madanda says good policies and strategies should be developed and implemented in an effort to curb teenage pregnancies and child marriages.
“There is need for a combination of robust strategies to eliminate teenage pregnancies, early and child marriages. This calls for the elimination of poverty, sex education and relevant legislation which needs to be enforced without fear or favour. Various actors should also be actively involved, including government, families, religious entities, traditional and cultural institutions,” Dr Madanda said.
In Zambia, like many other African countries, teenage pregnancies contribute highly to early, forced and child marriages.
The 2014 National Gender Policy states that Zambia has one of the highest child marriage prevalence in the world.
“On average, two out of five girls are married before their 18th birthday; 65 percent of these girls do not have an education while 58 percent only have primary education as compared to 17 percent with secondary education,” the gender policy reads in part.
A number of factors have been recognised as major contributors to teenage pregnancies and early marriages such as lack of information on children’s rights, especially among rural communities.
Other factors identified include limited school facilities especially in rural areas, making it difficult for girls to continue with school and harassment from teachers and fellow pupils.
Hambulo confessed that she has learnt her lessons, and has urged girls of her age to desist from engaging in premarital sex and other illicit activities that only disrupt their education.
She has implored government to build more recreational centres for youths so that they can be kept busy and ignore vices that tempt them to engage in sex.
“For those who feel they cannot abstain, it is better to use condoms. Pregnancy is only for married women. I miss being active and playing with my friends, my focus now is how to raise a child when I am also still a child. I wish I never did what I did,” she said.