5 January 2014

Tanzania: Thin Line Between Poverty and Teen Pregnancy Should Be Addressed Now

AS one searcher for the 2013 One Africa Award winner, it is true that the region is celebrating the incredible and ingenious organisations that have been finalists in the past.

Let's look at Supporting Orphans and Vulnerable for Better Health, Education and Nutrition (SOVHEN), a finalist in 2012. Richard Bbaale is one of the founders of SOVHEN. He grew up as an orphan. He was lucky to have his grandparents, who took care of him and put him through school.

As Bbaale grew up, he observed his sister miss school regularly, for they could not afford sanitary pads. "How can I change this?" lingered in Bbaale's mind throughout his childhood. This may be the kind of questions that gives all great innovators the ability to create the unknown.

SOVHEN was created from a dream, a dream to answer Richards question "How?" Bbaale started SOVHEN as a university club, where university students took time to volunteer and focused on supporting orphans and other vulnerable groups in rural communities with encouragement, tutoring and more.

He says higher levels of education are significantly associated with decreased chances of very early sex, decreased chances of marrying early and increased chances of using contraception during the teen years. Finding ways of keeping pregnant teenagers in education would therefore seem to be a priority.

This is the message in many areas of the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment programme (GEWEII) being implemented by Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA ) in partnership with four other organisations that defend the rights of women and children.

Influencing teenage pregnancy cannot, however, be the result of a single intervention. There is good evidence that providing parents with the skills and knowledge to become active partners in sex and relationships education is effective in preventing teenage pregnancy - young people whose parents are able to discuss issues around sexual health with them are more likely to use contraception at first intercourse.

Strategies to involve boys and men seem also to be missing in a lot of work around teenage pregnancy. Reducing teen and unplanned pregnancy is closely connected to the goal of promoting responsible fatherhood. Rates of sexual activity are higher for teen boys than for teen girls.

It is also true that teen boys have had more sexual partners than teen girls. Consequently, education and community leaders clearly need to focus their efforts carefully on boys as well as girls. For young men who are not yet fathers, activities should focus on the full responsibilities of fatherhood and how to avoid becoming a father too soon.

Policymakers should intensify their focus on the responsibilities of young men in preventing teen and unplanned pregnancy by: addressing pregnancy planning and prevention in programmes serving significant numbers of young men and, reaching young men more effectively in family planning programmes.

Although there has been growing recognition that responsible fatherhood is an important part of promoting child well-being and healthy families, there is still relatively little policy focus on delaying early or unplanned fatherhood in the first place. More must be done to help young men wait to become fathers until they are ready to shoulder the long-term responsibilities of raising a child.

Those who are already young fathers also need help to delay having more children until they are emotionally, financially, and otherwise ready to take on additional responsibilities of fatherhood (such as being in a stable, healthy relationship, including marriage).

Doing so will improve prospects for this generation of young men, their partners, and their children. Pregnancy planning and prevention should be included as a component of such programmes in schools and further education as responsible fatherhood, healthy relationships and marriage, in workplace education and workforce development.

This can be accomplished through language stressing how early and unplanned pregnancy affects the goals of these programmes, accompanied by a modest investment of resources to develop and disseminate materials, support training and technical assistance, and encourage partnerships with relevant organizations.

Parents should be cautious about perpetuating a doublestandard of expectations for sons and daughters -- one that clearly discourages sexual activity among teen girls but too often offers a "wink and a nod" to adolescent male sexual activity. Parents -- perhaps fathers, in particular -- are ideally suited to talk with their sons about responsible sexual behaviour.

For those who already are fathers, programmes should help participants think about how an unplanned pregnancy may affect their goals, their relationships, and the consequences for their children. They should also equip men with skills to communicate with their partners on these topics in order to avoid unplanned pregnancy.

In addition, programmes can help educate fathers to change their attitudes about early marriage for their children and to talk to their sons and daughters about avoiding early pregnancy and teaching responsible parenting.

When we consider young women in extremely poor and remote villages where there is no hope of a better life or education, we might understand the cultural norm in such places that explains why young girls in abject poverty have a higher tendency to get pregnant than their counterparts who are aiming at being educated and becoming influential.

Some researchers are of the opinion that these poor little girls have made some cost- benefit analysis amongst other logical economic assessments of themselves and their futures.

They must have envisaged and concluded that there's no tangible economic success or impact that they can possibly make, hence they opt for childbearing to make up for the void in their lives.

Economists who examined teen sexual behaviours and its consequences in relation to socio-economic class also concluded that teens from lowincome areas with abject poverty are more likely to become teen parents.

In developed nations with financial crisis' poverty plays a big role in teen pregnancy when teenagers feel that they can only get help or receive food stamps and welfare packages when they get pregnant and have children.

Going by the report that says by 2040 Africa will house half of the world's youth population, Africa must avert the economic hopelessness that might result from this.

I think the emphasis shouldn't be merely changing pregnancy rate, rather emphasis should be placed on education and programmes that would boost the self esteem and overall wellbeing of teenagers. It's also important to continue to encourage and make contraceptives readily available.

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