Home » Human Rights » Teenage Pregnancies – the Sad Reality

More than 50 years ago, the mere mention of the word “sex” among teenagers would raise eyebrows and spark debate anywhere in Zimbabwe. Then, not even a single girl would indulge, or let alone fall pregnant. Today the mention of the same word, still cause as much anxiety, if not paranoia within the same age group. However, the increase in teenage pregnancies, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and Aids among teenagers’ show that they have thrown caution to the wind and are indulging early, despite their non-committal attitudes towards sex.

And the results of their actions are there for everyone to see.

“I started having sex when I was 13, but my parents know nothing about it. They have never suspected anything,” revealed 17-year-old Tinashe (not real name) who wrote her A Levels, this year.

She said many of her friends even started earlier than her, and had a string of abortions behind them. Her assertions were ably supported by the results of the 2010-11 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey which showed that 24 percent of women aged between 15-19 years had already begun child bearing, 19 percent were mothers, while an additional five percent were pregnant with their first child.

Four years after the survey was conducted, the current demographic figures are even depressing with recent studies pointing to an increase in the number of teenagers, with some as young as 13 who are now sexually active and are not using any form of contraceptive.

That alone is posing a distinct array of reproductive and sexual related problems which include early child marriages, unsafe abortions, high risk behaviour, lack of awareness about contraception and reproductive health issues and non-consensual sex.

A recent survey by Guttmacher Institute in partnership with the Centre for Population Studies-University of Zimbabwe revealed that although a good percentage of teenagers were engaging in premarital sex, a high percentage of the group were not using any form of contraceptive methods.

This, the survey revealed, was a result of g taboos against premarital sexual activity, which was making it difficult for single, sexually active adolescents to obtain effective contraceptives they needed to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

“Approximately 56 500 Zimbabwean adolescents who are sexually active do not want to become pregnant but are not using contraceptives,” noted the report.

While it may appear that the non-use of contraceptives by the youths is deliberate, there are many obstacles that prevent teenagers and young adults from acting on their desire to postpone parenthood and stay HIV-free. Lack of knowledge on the importance of contraceptives and attitudes of health providers that are deemed “not friendly,” are some of the reasons that are making it difficult for adolescents, especially girls to access health services within their midst.

Given the long-standing stigma towards young people’s sexual activity and child-bearing outside of marriage in the country, many girls are using unorthodox means to access health services and in the process, putting themselves at risk of using expired drugs or illegally abort once they find out they are pregnant.

A teen mom, 15-year-old Varaidzo from St Mary’s in Chitungwixa – one of the oldest suburbs of this satellite city – had two abortions in six months before deciding to keep the third pregnancy.

From her first sexual encounter when she was 11, Varaidzo says she never visited any health centre for contraceptives for fear of being chided at by health workers.

“During the time that I had my first pregnancy, one of our friends went for treatment for an STI, but she got a rude awakening, when she was told to bring her parents since she was only 13.

“From that time, I never went to get assistance. I had been using pills that we buy from the shops (Chigovanyika Shopping Centre). When buying the pills or getting an injectable behind the counter at any pharmacy around here, no one asks you funny questions,” she said.

It is for that reason that only a handful of youths seek proper sexual and reproductive health services, while the rest rely on back-door facilities.

A clinical director with a private laboratory, Mr Andrea Gonzalez said the statistics on the ground was a clear indication that adolescents were indulging early, and not using any form of contraceptive, increasing the risk of new HIV infection.

Mr Gonzalez said communities needed to be pragmatic by assisting youths in choosing effective contraceptives rather than turn a blind eye problem of sexuality among the youths.

“Everyone from the churches, communities, peer groups and parents are preaching abstinence. Are they really abstaining?

“Shouldn’t we be teaching them how best they can stay alive?”

Women’s Action Group, WAG, director Ms Ednah Masiyiwa whose organisation was part of the Guttmacher Institute research on sexual and reproductive health needs, noted that the majority of adolescents had high level of unmet needs for contraception.

“As Zimbabweans, we have to realistically look at what services to provide to the young people within a very convenient environment, so that they benefit in the long run,” she said.

Alluding to some of the activities and research that WAG has over the years carried on reproductive health, Ms Masiyiwa said the majority of adolescents were getting wrong information from different sources, particularly friends, by passing health centres, which have a crucial role in shaping their decisions.

“Health centres in Zimbabwe have a glut of information on sexual and reproductive health, but adolescents are failing to access the information with anecdotal evidence suggesting that providers have been using clients’ seemingly young age to deny them services,” she said.

“It is because of the information gap that results in the youths particularly girls borrowing contraceptive pills from friends, and using them wrongly because they don’t have the adequate knowledge on contraceptives and sexual and reproductive health issues in general.”

Ms Masiyiwa called on parents to engage their children on these issues, given their heightened vulnerability to HIV infection and other problems such as early pregnancies that are as a result of lack of proper information. Encouraging parent-child communication would help strengthen both generations’ understanding of the dangers of early sexual debut, such as HIV infections and unintended pregnancy.

Promising new means of communication to reach all adolescents, such as through social platforms and mobile phones with web access can be some of the strategies that communities, schools and focal groups can use to disseminate information on sexual and reproductive health issues.

With only a few months before the review of the Millennium Development Goals, the challenge of prolonging adolescents’ lives by giving them possible means to spread HIV and other infections cannot be understated.

Source : The Herald