New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Teen Pregnancy Rate Stubbornly High

Keetmanshoop — The latest data indicate about 224 teenage girls fell pregnant since 2011, while still at school.

Out of this figure 73 pregnancies were recorded in 2011, 90 in 2012 and 61 this year contributing to the number of 1340 learners who dropped out of school for various reasons. According to the Deputy Director in the department of Lifelong Learning of the Ministry of Education in the //Karas Region, Jacqueline Rukamba, teenage pregnancies have reached pandemic proportion despite the fluctuations that can be observed and she attributed the situation to ignorance among other factors.

She said another significant factor is apparently the sheer lack of ambition in girls who view 'sugar daddies' as a passport out of their miserable lives. "The biggest concern in the region is that they lack future goals. When you ask learners what they want to become in live the answer invariably is: "I do not know. How painful is that? Then we are also faced with a lack of strong morals and values... and poverty. Some girls think that to have older men will solve their financial problems, while others simply want to experience how it feels to have a child of their own," she sighed, adding that many girls dropout and stay out of school, despite provisions in the Education Sector Policy for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy.

The policy stipulates that schools must confront this situation by rendering support to learners, rather than to punish them for becoming parents prematurely. Learners need support to continue with their education until the time of confinement and beyond, while still ensuring the welfare and health of the newborn child. The policy also obliges schools to provide information to assist female learners who have become pregnant to obtain financial support for the child from the male responsible for the pregnancy or his family. Meanwhile, the dropout rate among learners in grades as low as 4 and 5 is attributed to the absence of mother tongue instruction that consigns children to an intimidating English environment, Rukamba noted. According to her it also further appears as if junior secondary school learners between Grades 8 and 9 leave school, because they are intimidated by additional subjects or the workload. Also, some parents who are expected to motivate their children to stay in school often prefer to have their children stay on the farm as farmhands.

According to Rukamba who has been a school principal at various schools across Namibia, she can attest to incidents where parents came to demand that their children leave school. "I have nobody to stay with me on the farm," a parent would say without the slightest hesitation. She also highlighted incidents when young boys barely in their teens would request for leave from school, because they want to "breed horses on the farm," while others want to breed horses for other people. She said teachers are also to blame for the dropout rate and insists that there is a definite need for teachers to be trained to deal with learners' social needs. Rukamba argues that while many farm children are subjected to bullying and verbal abuse by the 'town bred' learners, others simply do not find an interest in what can be perceived as a dull environment, which makes it difficult for them to concentrate. "How do you expect a learner who fails one grade more than once to be motivated to stay in school? Teachers must be trained in how to work with learners with learning difficulties and the education system should make provision for such learners, offering them other options such as bringing back vocational training that has now been put on hold again," she said. Meanwhile, she noted that the OVC grant by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, which is expected to alleviate poverty also poses a distinct threat and can be a serious demotivating factor. She said a 15-year-old boy recently dropped out of school to spite his aunt, who collects the N$200 monthly grant on his behalf and now uses it to gamble. She further recommended that to arrest the trend of dropping out of school, school attendance registers should be made compulsory with law enforcement to back up the arrangement.

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