First Lady Mrs Auxillia Mnangagwa has launched the Let’s Talk campaign on reducing early and unintended pregnancy (EUP) in Zimbabwe at a colourful event held at Makomo Primary School in Epworth today.
In her keynote address, the First Lady said the right to health, education and gender equality are at the heart of the campaign – especially for girls and young women.
The meeting in Epworth came soon after another event in the same area last week, a feat that demonstrates Mrs Mnangagwa’s commitment to the issues of young people, especially the girl child.
“Greater efforts are needed to ensure that we substantially reduce early and unintended pregnancies. With this campaign, which brings together key ministries such as education, health, gender and youth, it is possible to eliminate early and unintended pregnancy so that our boys and girls can live like children and grow up to realise their full potential. Indeed, the slogan – Pregnancy at the Right Time! is a very suitable message for this campaign.
“Being pregnant and having a child are major life events. For an adolescent girl, experiencing these events while still at school often means facing harsh social sanctions and difficult choices that have life-long consequences. It could mean expulsion from home and school; being shamed and stigmatized by family, community members and peers; increased vulnerability to violence and abuse, or greater poverty and economic hardship,” the First Lady said.
Early and unintended pregnancy is often unplanned and challenging for the future life of the young mother and child. The increase risk of health problems for both mother and baby occur during teen pregnancy. Early and Unintended pregnancy impacts adolescent development in all aspects: physical, emotional, cognitive, and social development. Negative consequences resulting from early and unintended pregnancy include: low income, increased school dropout rates, lower educational levels, and increased rates of substance abuse.
Thus, early and unintended pregnancy is a national health, social problem and a development challenge. Evidence from various national reports point to high prevalence of early and unintended pregnancy, with the highest prevalence reported for Mashonaland Central Province, followed by Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South. When broken down by age, nationally, 17 per cent of adolescents aged 15 – 19 years have experienced pregnancy.
Factors associated with early and unintended pregnancy include, age, ethnicity, marital status, alcohol/drug abuse, knowledge of pregnancy prevention, orphanhood, religion, peer pressure, poverty, harmful socio-cultural practices such as early or forced marriages, sexual abuse, social media and the internet.
“These causes should be well understood to help the Government and partners to identify effective interventions to reduce early and unintended pregnancy. The launch of the Let’s Talk Campaign today is a good example of an evidence-informed intervention bringing together sectors such as education, health, gender and youth for the achievement of a common goal.”
Speaking at the same occasion, Professor Hubert Gijzen, the Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Regional Office for Southern Africa alluded to alarmingly high levels of EUP in the region, Zimbabwe included.
He said adolescence fertility remains high ( at 21.6%) among girls aged 15 – 19 years of age in Zimbabwe. This is almost 1 in 5 girls falling pregnant. Added to this, 41% of girls report that their sexual debut before 18 years was unwanted; and 24% of maternal deaths are girls aged 15-19 years.
In 2018, a total of 6, 159 school dropouts were due to pregnancy and child marriage while 48% of pregnancies among 15 – 19 year olds were unplanned. Prof Gijzen said pregnancy is higher in rural areas, among poor girls with low levels of education as supported by available data. Rural adolescent girls are twice as likely to become pregnant (27.2%) compared to their urban peers (10.3). Pregnancy rates shoot up to 37% among who girls who completed only primary education as compared to 17% for those that completed secondary education.
“Early and unintended pregnancy can have adverse educational outcomes. For an adolescent girl, experiencing pregnancy while still at school often means facing harsh social sanctions. Becoming pregnant could mean expulsion from home and school. It could mean being shamed and stigmatised by family, community members and peers. It could mean increased vulnerability to violence and abuse. And it could also mean greater poverty and economic hardship.
“The education sector could respond to EUP by providing all learners with quality education. There is need for development and implementation of national re-entry and continuation policies for pregnant and parenting girls. Each additional year of girls’ education has been found to increase contraceptive uptake and also reduce pregnancy by 10 per cent. It is important to provide comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) that develops knowledge, changes attitudes and informs positive behaviour,” Prof Gijzen said.
He called for integration of pregnancy topics in the curricular; and the complementing of CSE with other programmes.
Dr. Obadiah Moyo, the Minister of Health and Child Care proffered an array of solutions to help prevent early pregnancy and pregnancy-related mortality and morbidity in adolescents.
“There is an urgent need to prohibit early marriage as espoused in the 2013 Constitution and Marriage Act. Stakeholders should also support pregnancy prevention programmes among adolescents. It is important to legislate access to contraceptive information and services; reduce the cost of contraceptives to adolescents; prohibit and punish perpetrators of coerced sex; expand access to skilled antenatal, childbirth and postnatal care; and also expand access to Emergency Obstetric Care,” Dr. Moyo said.