Home » Human Rights » The Twilight World of Teen Parents

I was in Mutoko last week where I travelled to many corners of the province and the sight met my eyes was a truly tragic one. It looked like everywhere there were teen moms parading their swollen bellies.

In some cases children who appeared to be younger than 16 already had babies strapped on their backs or toddlers running beside them.

So bad was the situation that it was exceptional to come across a 17-year old girl who did not look pregnant or like a mother.

Just recently in one village a 14-year old girl eloped to the home of her 14-year old boyfriend because she was pregnant. The two are most probably set for a life of poverty.

The girl’s parents have reportedly insisted that since their daughter has to drop out of school, the boy responsible must also stay at home until the baby is old enough to allow both parents to return to school.

With no skills and no education, the only source of income for the young family is agriculture. But they will not be able to make much out of it because they do not have equipment and money for inputs like seed and fertiliser.

A teacher at one of the primary schools said that it has become common for Grade Seven female pupils to fail to sit for their examinations because they would have eloped after falling pregnant.

I asked pregnant15-year old Mariah (not her real name) if she classified herself a child or an adult.

“I am married and therefore I am an adult. When there are any gatherings or events in the village I sit with other women, among the mothers because I am no longer a child,” she told me.

Yet according to the law of our country this teen mom and all other teen parents remain children. Until they turn 16 they cannot even have an HIV test without parental authority.

Until they turn 18 they cannot vote. Until they turn 21, they will need their parents or guardians to stand by them should they ever face legal prosecution.

The case of childhood interrupted is worse for some other girls who are pushed into early marriages because of religious beliefs.

Teachers, councillors and traditional leaders in the area were quite bitter about the fact that a certain religious sect has been pulling girls out of school to marry them off.

I was told that most of the girls in this sect drop out of school between the ages of 12 and 14, often to become second or third wives to much older men.

Fortunately the community has started to fight for the children’s rights.

Reports are being made to the police who quickly move to arrest those who marry off under-age girls.

Childline, an organisation that helps traumatised children has established an office in Mutoko.

The officers there are working hard to make sure that offenders are punished.

But they can only help when reports are made. In cases where the girl is willing and the boy is also under-age there seems to be little that can be done.

So until a solution is found to decrease the instances of teen pregnancies in the area and the whole country, many teens will have to live in the twilight world, children with children, with hopes of a bright future dashed.

Source : The Herald