By Alfred Mthandizi
Malawi stakeholders are shocked to learn that 38 girls had become or are currently pregnant at Bua Community Day Secondary School in the tobacco growing boarder district of Mchinji. Bua CDSS Head teacher, Ireen Zimba said in a meeting that the pregnancies have heavily affected girl’s access to education which was supposed to be a reality. Malawi News Agency reported that the figures are between September 2016 and June of this year.
The revelation comes after the Human Rights Watch recently released a report which revealed that millions of pregnant and married adolescent girls across many African countries are being denied their education because of discriminatory policies and practices. Their report also found that more than 49 million girls are out of primary and secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa, with 31 million of them out of secondary education, undermining their rights and limiting their opportunities.
Human Rights Watch further reported that in sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of girls marry before age 18, and African countries account for 15 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage globally. The region also has the world’s highest prevalence of adolescent pregnancies. In 14 sub-Saharan countries, between 30 and 51 percent of girls give birth before they are 18. Cultural or religious beliefs often stigmatize unmarried, pregnant girls, with the result that many pregnant girls are forced into early marriages.
“The African continent has one of the world’s highest rates of adolescent pregnancy, but many governments insist on tackling this social and public health challenge by punishing girls and jeopardizing their future,” said Elin Martínez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Emma Kaliya is the women’s rights activist based is in the capital City Lilongwe. Kaliya said the news from Bua of the 38 young girl pregnancies within a less than twelve month period is worrisome and shameful to Malawi as a country. “There is need for Government and other stakeholders to intervene and ensure that the issue is solved amicably,” Said Kaliya.
Passion for Women and Children, Executive Director, Darlington Harawa blamed the situation on lack of access to condoms. “Access to condoms is paramount in reducing such incidences, hence the need for Malawi to have well harmonized policies regarding sexual and reproductive health rights,” said Harawa. She said these pregnancies, if not monitored, will result in unsafe abortions which may cause other injuries. Harawa continued to state that maternal deaths are highly contributed to such unplanned pregnancies.
Although most sub-Saharan African countries have made commitments to guarantee compulsory primary and lower-secondary education for all children, many exclude or expel pregnant girls and young mothers from school.
Human Rights Watch research shows Tanzania and Sierra Leone are among the sub-Saharan African countries that have harmful policies and practices that discriminate against pregnant and married girls.
Human Rights Watch report notes that many adolescent girls become pregnant because they lack the information needed to make informed decisions about their sexuality, family planning, and their reproductive health. Others are coerced into sex and require protection along with access to health services and support.
According to the United Nations, 80 percent of women ages 15 to 24 who have HIV globally live in sub-Saharan Africa and across the continent, and girls aged 15 to 19 are five times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys.