ZIMBABWE adopted the amended Education Bill in September 2020 to ensure that girls do not drop out of school due to pregnancy but to date no statistics have been availed to show how many girls have benefited from its provisions.
Prior to the amendment of the Education Act, school authorities could expel a girl for falling pregnant but, in the event that a school boy was responsible, he was spared, which was seen as discriminatory against the girl child.
Statistics however show that at least 5 000 girls fell pregnant between January and February this year and of those, it remains unclear if they managed to continue with their studies as spelt by the act.
The recently released Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee 2021 report shows that 23 percent of children of school-going age are out of school. Of those, 19 percent of them aged between 14-17 years old are out of school due to pregnancy and child marriages.
COVID-19 induced lockdown measures have also exacerbated factors that lead to a steep rise in cases of teen pregnancies and child marriages in Zimbabwe especially in impoverished communities.
The spokesperson for the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Mr Taungana Ndoro said despite the unavailability of statistics of girls who have been assisted since last year, the implementation of the Act is going on smoothly.
“Statistics of pregnant girls are not stagnant and therefore I cannot provide any information on how many girls have been assisted since last year. We however advise our parents and guardians to instill discipline within their family settings so that we avoid teenage pregnancies or teenage motherhoods,” said Ndoro.
“If that happens parents and guardians should take advantage of the Education Act and encourage their affected children to complete their education by all means.”
The Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Primary and Secondary Education, Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga recently said the implementation of the Act will take willing school authorities to engage pregnant girls and bring them back to school as they are likely to suffer from stigma.
She said the committee also does not have the exact number of girls who have fallen pregnant while at school but is convinced that official figures are just a tip of an iceberg.
“We need to get to a point where school authorities are in the forefront of encouraging pregnant pupils to come to school because they also suffer stigma and shame which may deter them from coming back to school. We also should consider counselling sessions for these teenagers and hold their hands so that they get courage to continue with their studies even after falling pregnant,” she said.
A teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity said tackling pregnant learners also involves taking note of factors leading to that which include lack of extensive sex education at school, at home, and or at church.
“We know that we have an amended act which should cater for pregnant learners but the truth is as schools we are not yet ready to fully implement that as we still have girls who drop out even today. The problem is our superiors are not ready to take the lead in calling the pregnant girls back as they feel it will encourage more pregnancies. We also have parents who are not willing to support their pregnant daughters claiming the pregnancies bring shame to their reputation and they would rather have them stay home than keep parading their shame at school,” she said.
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