Zambia: Township Life Throwing Young Girls Into Perils of Society

In the evening, they roam around bars to catch a glimpse of night life as they hook up with both young and older men who buy alcohol for them.

Today, our communities are said to be home to many sleepless townships when it comes to nightlife.

This common feature of most local townships has also exposed many girls to dangerous vices as they find their lives entangled with those of the very people they should look up to and trust.

A night out in the township of Twapia in Ndola leaves much to be desired for the young girls who often take alcohol and indulge in unprotected sex.

These activities often lead to the danger of the girls contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as syphilis, Chlamydia and HIV/AIDS.

Drinking alcohol is common among young girls in township bars where it has become a major concern for members of the public.

The situation is not different for Nkwazi and other townships in Ndola where the evenings are characterised by drunken girls who are often taken advantage of by men.

It is now common for these young girls between the ages of 16 and early 20s to be lured out of the bars for sex outside onto the open spaces and passages within the market buildings.

According to health experts, sexual relations between older men and young girls has been a significant driver of the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

These relationships, which are common in many areas, have enabled HIV to move quickly from one generation to the next.

Skyways Ward Councillor Febian Mwanza in Ndola's Masala area saida family is a child's first primary educational institution where learning begins.

Mr Mwanza said the moral decay that is being seen in the townships is as a result of children in some homes rebelling against the advice of their parents who give up disciplining them.

He said the local authority has put in place guidelines of what age should enter the bars, but at the end of the day, club and bar owners are in business and want to maximise on their sales.

"Currently, there is no control of access to alcohol in the community because it can be bought from any bar around every street corner. Even the mushrooming of shebeens that have been set up around the townships has made it easy for young ones to have accessto alcohol," he said.

The councillor said political will has also been lacking because most politicians looking for votes have had challenges to curb alcohol drinking in the community for fear of not being voted for.

"This is sad because at the end of the day, morals and family values must be considered," he said.

Mr Mwanza further said participation of the youth in church activities has also declined as most of them are shunning church and spending time in drinking places.

He said generally, the Church is an important institution that helps to inculcate good Christian values that will see children become better citizens.

Mr Mwanza said there is need for the Church to continue providing counsel.

"Years back, children in society could be disciplined by any elderly person on how to embrace good morals and this was a shared responsibility. Our children today cannot be disciplined as a good number of them are disrespectful towards elders and also some parents tend to shield their children," he said.

Mr Mwanza said even the cultural centre in Masala is slowly turning into a white elephant because youths do not want to use it to develop their artistic and drama skills.

He said this is because the young people prefer hanging around places such as bars where they can drink alcohol.

He said at the end of the day, it is also about interest in what activities have been put in place as the challenge has extended to some of the youths missing school because they prefer to indulge in social vices.

Mayanko Phiri, a former community health volunteer in Ndola,bemoaned the current nature of lifestyle of the teenage girls in the townships which he said has placed them at great risk of rape and being infected with Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).

Mr Phiri said the conditions in townships today have led to heightened interest in sexuality without portraying strict boundaries on what is normal.

"Like it is with the case of defilement, poverty seems to be the main factor that causes girls to indulge in illicit activities, just like some families use their children to meet financial needs," he said.

However, some cases arise from peer pressure and rebellion from homes.

Some of these teenage girls have been seen to involve themselves in promiscuous activities out of their own free will, which has become part of their daily living.

According to studies, adolescence represents a critical developmental period during whenthe young people often experiment with and initiate vices like alcohol use.

This is a period during which youths are said to exhibit several physiological changes that occur in the brain.

Mr Phiri said while organizations are ramping up efforts to tackle child sexual abuse and early marriages in communities, teenage girls are developing interest in risky social vices such as luring of men to buy alcohol for them.

"Poverty also could have led to increased mischief in their homes, and coupled with some form of abuse, abandonment, neglect, these are results of broken families in our townships. We also have a number of single parent headed homes which have socialised their children based upon their own experience. You find that a mother was a sex worker, or has been abandoned by her husband and cannot manage to take care of the children left behind," Mr Phiri said.

He said life in the townships has become a sad reality as the most parents of teenagers who have been involved in alcohol and promiscuous activities in the bars also suffered abuse and neglect from their own parents.

He said the abuse that keeps happening over and over again, whether psychological, emotional, physical or sexual, has contributed to some of the children leaving their homes, which has led to an increase in street children.

A Ndola-based nurse who has worked in a number of clinics, said it is no surprise that the young girls today who get pregnant are not sure about who is responsible.

The nurse, who only identified herself as a retired health worker helping out in the antenatal and family planning clinics under some projects, said syphilis has also become prevalence among the young pregnant teenage girls.

"Since they are young and hang around with older boys and men, they are not in a position to negotiate for safer sex. The only time that this night life ends with them is when they fall sick or become pregnant and stop patronising the bars," she said.

The nurse said it is a very sad and painful experience to work in the communities to witness how the lives of the young girls are being wasted.

It is important to understand that the general decline in adherence to values and morals has a negative effect on the healthy functioning of a society.

Therefore, there is need for all stakeholders to address the circumstances created by township life that has caused many young girls to be vulnerable to the perils of society because if this is not addressed, efforts to get the girls back in school so that they realise their potential will be meaningless.

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