Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Efforts to Fight School Pregnancies On the Rise

BEATRICE Mwanunu was in a school at Muheza in Tanga Region when a 20-year-old man approached her and convinced her to start a love affair.

The man offered to give her some money to support her in school. She was easily swayed.

A few months later, she was pregnant. When her boyfriend, Michael, realised that he could not support her, he sent her to his parents in the village. Mwanunu did not see him again.

Michael's parents were too poor to provide for her. She worked in people's gardens to earn a living as she suffered silently, but she feared to return to her uncle's home where she was staying before meeting Michael Today, she lives with a relative, who provides for her and her one-year-old baby.

"I could not return to school after getting the baby," she says. She had dropped out of school in form one. She is a result of girls who get swayed and get pregnant before they finish their school. TAMWA, under sponsorship from Foundation for Civil Society is trying to fight this.

According to Minister of Education and Vocational Training, during the period of five-years, between 2004 and 2008, a total of 28,590 schoolgirls in the country dropped out of school as a result of unwanted pregnancy 11,599 being secondary school students and 16,991 primary schools.

Nationally, girl's enrolment in secondary school is lower than boys, drop-out rates higher and their performance worse. Girls' gross enrolment rate in Tanzania is 32 per cent whilst boys are 40 per cent, URT, (2008).

In 2007, 21.9 per cent of all drop-outs recorded in Tanzanian secondary schools were due to pregnancy BEST, (2008). The problem of child mothers exists even in developed countries like America.

Each year, one million American teenagers become pregnant in their early and middle adolescent years, 30,000 of them under 15 years of age. But the US has a welfare law that was enacted in 1996 with numerous provisions designed to reduce teenage pregnancies.

The law has an annual $50m federal investment in abstinence education. It also has a requirement for the states to set goals and take action to reduce pregnancy. This is what Uganda lacks to help teenage mothers. Dr Heri Tungaraza says a child born of a teenage aged between 15-19 years has 90 per cent chances of dying during labour or pregnancy because the mothers in this age group do not attend antenatal or postnatal care.

The mothers similarly die. There is stigma and rejection from societies when girls drop out of school because of pregnancy. So, they want to hide and that means they do not access antenatal care," he says. He adds that even when the children survive, they are underweight and remain so because the mothers may not know the proper nutrition for the growth of the child before and after birth.

They are also prone to childhood killers like pneumonia and malaria. They are likely not to take their children for immunisation because they do not understand the use of it, he says. He says to address maternal deaths and meet MDG 5, African countries must address teenage pregnancy rates.

About 56 per cent of the population is below 18 and the girls form more than 60 per cent of this population. And yet a sexually active teenager, who doesn't use contraception, has a 90 per cent chance of getting pregnant within a year.

He observes that education of girls helps delay the childbearing. Investing in education of the girl child also reduces household poverty to make the life of a young girl better and hopeful. He also recommends that African countries invest in adolescent reproductive health services to reduce the risk of teenagers getting pregnant.

If countries could provide contraceptives to all women, including girls, it would limit pregnancy rates, he says. Using a combination of education and improved maternal and child health care in health facilities, Morocco reduced its under five mortality rate from 88 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 33 per 1,000.

Morocco increased its share of the national health budget from about 10 per cent in the 1990s to 40 per cent. The additional money was also invested in recruiting health workers and equipping the health centres. However, almost 90 per cent of African countries seem to be lagging behind in maternal and child health.

The lack of resources, inadequate infrastructure, abysmal funding are some of the barriers that bring about great concern, there are many other challenges that might prove to be even harder to solve.

In rural areas, for example, parents are sometimes hesitant in allowing their girls to walk long distances to school, for fear of sexual harassment from men and boys and that is why it is important for more hostels to be built so that more girls may continue with school

. Lack of hostels for students especially girls is the main reason a campaign by Tanzania Education Authority to build 30 hostels for girls in eight regions was launched recently.

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