Teenage pregnancies remain a huge problem in Zimbabwe with rural and apostolic sect girls the most affected, according to Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr David Parirenyatwa.
Officiating at the launch of the National Teenage Fertility Study which coincided with the launch of National Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health (ASRH) Strategy II (2016-2020), Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr David Parirenyatwa said teenage pregnancy has become a national problem which needs a collective effort to be tackled.
“We launched this study with the aim of understanding why adolescent fertility was increasing despite the government efforts to reduce it.
“The findings were however not pleasing as we found out those adolescents with no comprehensive knowledge on pregnancy and those who were supporting adolescents getting pregnant was at a higher risk of pregnancy.
“This is largely due to lack of harmonization of policies at national level as the age of marriage is years while the age of consent is 16. The policies are not effective due to lack of coordination of ministries, we need to address the issue at national level,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.
According to the National Teenage Fertility Study, early sexual debut, sexual abuse and child marriage were found to significantly increase the risk of unintended pregnancies among teenage girls with 13% of girls aged 10-19 years reportedly having at least one sexual encounter while 54% of girls aged between 10-14 years who had a sexual encounter experienced rape or forced sexual intercourse.
Almost a fifth (19%) of pregnancies among female adolescents aged 15-19 years was associated with early marriage.
According to the study, Zimbabwe has an extremely young population with a third between the ages of 10-24 years.
12% of the population is comprised of adolescent girls aged 10-19 years who face a myriad of challenges related to their development and sexual reproductive health.
One quarter of these adolescent girls are married by the age of 18 years, with 24% falling pregnant. The rural–urban differential is striking with the fertility rate being twice as high among girls resident in the rural areas.
Speaking at same event, UNFPA country representative, Cheikh Tidiane Cisse said teenage pregnancy severely curtails girls and young women’s opportunities and hinders their ability to reach their full potential.
“A young adolescent girl can be an asset for her country if she is not married off during her childhood; not forced to leave school or exposed to unplanned and early pregnancies that put her at high risk of illness, maternal morbidities and even death,” Cisse said.
The study’s findings, launched at St. Albert’s Mission Hospital in Mashonaland Central revealed that 9% of female adolescents aged 10-19 years had ever been pregnant.
Factors significantly associated with adolescent pregnancy were a lack of comprehensive knowledge and poor attitudes towards sexual reproductive health among teenage girls; only 4% of those aged 10-19 years had comprehensive knowledge on pregnancy and 77% believed that “contraceptive (condoms and pills) use is a sign of promiscuity”, highlighting the need for increased Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) among this extremely vulnerable demographic.
The ASRH strategy also encourages multi-sectoral evidence based interventions with close linkages and integration, emphasizing the essential role of education, protection and sustainable livelihoods for young people and the need for greater investment in young people as a key driver in reaping the demographic dividend in the future.
Both the national ASRH teenage fertility study and the development of the ASRH strategy were supported by UNFPA under the Integrated Support Programme (ISP), supported by the governments of Britain, Ireland and Sweden.
The strategy will be implemented under the Health Development Fund, supported by the ISP donors and the European Union.