New Era (Windhoek)

23 November 2012

Africa: Early Pregnancies Are Killing Continent's Girls

Photo: Lauren Everitt/AllAfrica
Young women perform in traditional dress in Arusha, Tanzania.

Windhoek — One factor which contributes greatly to the high levels of maternal and infant mortality is early or teenage pregnancies, says Madam Graça Machel.

She made the remark at a press conference held yesterday to conclude her three-day visit to Namibia. Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela the iconic former president of South Africa, said at a tender age, girls' bodies are not developed enough to become mothers.

"Then the girls get caught up in a situation where they do not know what to do and they try abortion," said Machel.

If they do keep the babies and they go to hospital "because they cannot afford to get an abortion, they die at birth. And when they don't die it's a child who has another child," Machel said.

She also revealed that an average of 40 percent of children living in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) are stunted. "Almost half of our kids are stunted," she remarked.

Stunting refers to chronic malnutrition and stunted children often lag behind their peers physically and intellectually. About 29 percent of children under the age of five in Namibia are stunted. "You might say it's not bad, but actually it's really bad," remarked Machel, who is a child and women's rights advocate.

She stressed the urgency to do much more to address malnutrition and stunting, which are major concerns. She acknowledged the efforts of the government and its partners and their commitment to rid the country of the scourge of malnutrition and other obstacles affecting the fulfillment of children's rights.

Machel also noted that Namibia has clarity about the problems and challenges it is confronting. "Its leaders know where the problems lie," she observed about Namibia.

She further affirmed there is a genuine effort to lead on the part of the country's leadership. However, the missing link is implementation, she noted.

Machel also touched on the media's powerful role to effect social change, particularly when it comes to addressing malnutrition, and urged journalists to do their part in addressing the problem of malnutrition.

She said it is the obligation of government and other relevant stakeholders to provide journalists with the right information. "And once you have the information in your hands, it is your responsibility to spread the message," said Machel. "Parliamentarians have a critical role to play in consolidating the economic gains made by the country to change the lives of children and women in Namibia," Machel told the assembled journalists.

In a country where one in every three children under the age of five is too short for their age, and one in five is too thin for their age, children born in poor families have a threefold risk of being stunted or malnourished, compared to those born to rich families.

Machel highlighted the need for urgent action by MPs and all stakeholders. She said MPs could make a difference individually and collectively by advocating and communicating the urgency to reduce malnutrition and stunting in households, communities and the nation.

Machel came to Namibia this week at the invitation of the government. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) also played a catalytic role in facilitating Machel's visit to Namibia.

Her visit was amongst others aimed at supporting and learning about nutrition in the country.

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