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Investing in the girl child, panacea to early marriages

Dr Parirenyatwa

Dr Parirenyatwa

Anesu Chakabva Correspondent
Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa, together with other stakeholders, have expressed concern at the high prevalence rate of adolescent pregnancies throughout the country. Socio-economic problems, unfair cultural norms and values, poor-performing schools and a lack of mentorship present unconducive conditions for a girl child. Speaking at the 2016 National Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy recently, Dr Parirenyatwa noted that adolescent pregnancy is a major cause for concern because of its association with higher morbidity and mortality for both mother and child.

As we continue to celebrate Women’s Day, there is a need to come up with feasible and effective initiatives to curb this issue that has grown to be a national problem. It is high time every citizen came on board and help in the process of bringing an end to this phenomenon, as it adversely affects the future of the nation.

The Health Ministry in collaboration with Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) commissioned a study in 2015 to better understand why adolescent fertility was on the increase.

Some of the findings showed 17 percent of adolescents aged between 15 and 19 years and 0,2 percent among those aged between 10 and 14 years, had experienced pregnancy.

According to the study, Mashonaland Central Province has the highest child marriage and teenage pregnancy rate in the country at 28 percent followed by Manicaland and Matabeleland North with 25,4 percent and 23,6 percent respectively.

Such disturbing statistics indicate the necessity of intervention from all Zimbabweans as the problem is widespread.

Despite Government efforts to reduce prevalence of adolescent pregnancy, figures have continued to escalate to a point where the issue can safely be considered a national challenge.

The 2017 theme for the International Women’s Day #BeBoldForChange, advocates the empowerment of the girl child to change her circumstances.

There is no better empowerment than access to education. Although such pregnancies emanate mostly from poverty-related situations, lack of attainment of quality education and information also play a devastating role.

According to the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development Harare Provincial Development Officer Mr Ernest Chimboza, the main hindrance to girls’ empowerment is lack of access to relevant information as they are overwhelmed by household responsibilities which usually come before everything else.

It is imperative that there be more national women movements that seek to address the challenges faced by the girl child, especially those in remote areas, as they usually have no access to important information, which affects their decision making on issues to do with their lives.

Such movements can then offer a network of resources allowing girls to grow their local communities as well as facilitate the unleashing of the potential they possess.

There should also be creation of funded girls’ clubs which, among other activities, offer emergency support in violent situations as some of the said pregnancies come as a result of sexual abuse. Empowerment of the girl child has to start right in the family, classroom and more importantly in the neighbourhood.

Over 60 million girls worldwide are not in school, 20 million in Africa have been sexually abused and about 80 percent of girls in rural Africa do not have access to educational facilities. All this adversely influences current approaches to development.

“Girls have no status, no protection and no prospects in many families and communities and this is simply the way things are. Inequality is so entrenched that it isn’t even questioned.” These are the sentiments of Graca Machel in an article on the empowerment of girls and her argument, just like that of many, is if you educate the girl child, everyone benefits.

Last year, 4 500 Grade Seven pupils dropped out of school after falling pregnant or getting married. Child marriage is dangerous and should be dealt with as it is an entry point to all other issues.

For girls to get educated, earn an income, invest back into the community and enjoy good health and safety, child marriages should be ended.

Girls who drop out of school to get married before they turn 18 are usually victims of poverty, domestic violence, immature pregnancies, which in most cases are associated with fatal complications during birth.

Early marriages have their way of perpetuating poverty and gender inequality. All efforts at offering universal education, ending violence against women, maternal and child health, economic development and combating HIV/AIDS are impeded by child marriage.

It is now the responsibility of the authorities to hasten already existing efforts that seek to challenge long-held traditions and taboos in some religions and cultures.

A lot can be done to improve the quality of education as well as open the avenues and opportunities for girls.

Parents and guardians need to be capacitated so that they complement the efforts of organisations spearheading the emancipation of girls.

Families need to work with other members of the community to understand the importance of female education.

In some rural areas, pupils walk long distances to get to the nearest school. This prompts some parents to worry about child safety and also demotivates the latter.

If girls are empowered, they are able to walk in the fullness of their potential to be powerful leaders. However, to achieve this, they need extra support. Emancipation is a lifelong investment whose benefits will be perpetually enjoyed by the girl child.

A knowledgeable woman contributes to society in several ways with her skills and confidence.

An informed and educated woman is more likely to postpone marriage to an age when she is emotionally and physically mature to handle the challenges of life.

Studies have shown that each additional year of schooling brings down fertility rates by a significant percentage and infant mortality rates among primary level schooled mothers are 50 percent less when compared to illiterate mothers.

To alleviate poverty, several initiatives can be rolled out to capacitate both children and their parents. An example can be the current running initiative spearheaded by SOS Children’s Villages in collaboration with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development which offers funding of projects and capacity building training courses.

This enables girls to carry out self-help projects and earn income which can assist them in completing their studies. Investing in girls means minimising adolescent pregnancies as well as child marriages.

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