In the final part of Breaking the Stigma: some of Zimbabwe’s teenage mothers speak out about family abandonment and societal challenges.
Ellen (17) and Precious relate how they changed their narrative by going back to school despite being teen mothers.
In an article by World Vision Zimbabwe on April 17, 2023, titled Education Amendment Act of 2020 provides a second chance to pregnant girls and adolescent mothers in Zimbabwe, it was revealed that many girls who drop out of school due to pregnancies, fail to continue with their education after giving birth for various reasons such as becoming child brides and nursing their babies.
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Failure to go back to school has resulted in an increased number of child marriages. Many girls see no alternative other than getting married.
However, the Education Amendment Act of 2020, which has provisions of re-entry of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers after giving birth, has provided an opportunity for some young mothers to return to school.
“At first it was embarrassing”
Ellen Marufu did not let the predicament of being a single teenage mother, decide her future.
After realising that the law allowed her to continue with her education despite having been pregnant, she decided to go back to school.
“I pleaded with my mother to consider letting me go back to school and continue with my studies,” Ellen said.
Ellen, who passed her O’ Levels last year with flying colours, is a good example of how determination can break barriers in life.
She got pregnant when she was in Form 2 after a relationship with an A-Level pupil at her school.
“At first it was embarrassing,” Ellen said.
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She gathered the courage to go out and face the world and grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
Ellen passed seven subjects and is planning to enrol at a nursing school next year.
The stigma from peers and the community was not enough to stop her.
Children’s rights a sub-category of rights?
A child rights practitioner working with the Mudiwa Foundation, Victor Chirimuta, confirmed that there is a huge vacuum in the policy framework, which has exposed children, including child mothers.
“The biggest challenge faced in Zimbabwe is the absence of a law that can fully protect the rights of children since in most cases they are taken as a sub-category of rights,” Chirimuta said.
“A lot of times children’s rights are spoken about in context of those of women and children, human rights including children’s rights, whereas children are full-fledged human beings with full rights.
“This means that we need to be serious about children’s rights and come up with child-friendly and child-centred laws that promote age-appropriate, gender-sensitive and legal education as well.”
Chirimuta also highlighted that another gap related to the rights of children is that the children themselves do not know the law.
“Several years were wasted”
Precious Sibanda, who dropped out of school in Hurungwe when she was 16, said she did not know that she could continue with her studies while pregnant.
“Although I managed to supplement years later, I feel that I wasted several years because I could have done my studies earlier,” said Sibanda.
She is now a qualified teacher.
“Dropping out of school due to pregnancy is something that can delay a lot of things in a girl’s life and I would encourage parents to think about their daughter’s future first before making any major decisions,” Sibanda said.
Rumbidzai Nyakudanga (34) a mother of two said it was bad for parents to coerce children to become child brides.
“There are several aspects that we should consider as parents that sometimes our children are faced with these kinds of predicaments due to abuse. I feel that since the Constitution of Zimbabwe considers persons below the age of 18 minors, it means that they are not able to make any informed decisions about certain issues, it could be out of peer pressure or something else,” said Nyakudanga.
She encourages other parents to have conversations with their children, listen to their stories instead of being judgemental.
“This could help us as parents to change our primitive attitude and adjust to the dynamics of the world,” she said.
A junior Member of Parliament from Glen View High 1 School, Kelly Marange said there should be a dedicated children’s rights ministry considering that of the 15 million people in Zimbabwe, children make up a large proportion which is about 48% (Unicef Zimbabwe fact sheet, 2021).
“As children, we have witnessed so many things taking up so much space on our national agenda and national budget but still neglect us children. I feel that there should be a budget for us as children that can be used as support mechanisms whenever needed by us as children,” Marange said.
She highlighted that the challenge with children, in general, was lack of support systems.
“This is the reason that teenage mothers end up in more vulnerable situations; they do not have support systems. More so parents and society should understand that we are living in a dynamic world and try their best to understand their children.
“Several organisations support children in Zimbabwe such as teen mothers and among others but I feel that charity should begin at home. Children spend most of their time with family, friends, at school, and within a community so this should be their first pillar of support.”
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