Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Underage pregnancies are bad anywhere, any time (By Sosthenes Mwita of Daily news)

IT is indisputable that Africa has the world’s highest rates of adolescent pregnancy, a factor that affects the health, education, and earning potential of millions of African girls, according to a report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Although Tanzania’s record is not shockingly high at the continental level it is a headache on the home front. Niger tops the list with 51 percent of women between 20 and 24 reporting a birth before the age of 18. And of 20 countries with the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy, 18 are African, the report, “Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy”, says. When a girl becomes pregnant or has a child, her health, education, earning potential and her entire future may be in jeopardy, trapping her in a lifetime of poverty, exclusion and powerlessness, the report says. “Adolescent pregnancy is intertwined with issues of human rights. A pregnant girl who is pressured or forced to leave school, for example, is denied her right to education,” according to a UNFPA report. There are 580 million adolescent girls in the world. Four out of five of them live in developing countries including Tanzania. Investing in them today will unleash their full potential to shape humanity’s future. The distorted transitioning of girls into womanhood as a result of early pregnancy ought to be seen as a significant economic loss. As mentioned before, underage pregnancies are a headache especially in regions of Dodoma, Mara, Manyara, Kilimanjaro and Mbeya. Indeed, Tanzania must pursue policies that bridge the gender disparity between boys and girls in access to health care, education and other basic social services. Leaders must also accelerate efforts towards universal primary education that gives particular focus to girls. Current statistics on underage pregnancies are hard to come by in Tanzania but the country has one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world. In fact, thousands of girls in Tanzania have their educational pursuits cut short every year as a result of pregnancy. This diabolical situation, which is indeed, a communal and national headache, affects girls’ health, education, future employment and prevents victims from reaching their full potential in life. Every year more than 8,000 girls drop out of school due to untimely pregnancies. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child says in Article 21 that: “States shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices affecting the welfare, dignity, normal growth and development of the child.” The Charter also says that: “Child marriage shall be prohibited and effective action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years and make registration of all marriages in an official registry compulsory.” Tanzania is a signatory to the charter. In another development, a report by the Legal and human Rights Centre (LHRC) in 2010 said that teenage pregnancies are a major hindrance to the ability of girls to access adequate education. According to the “Basic Education Statistics in Tanzania” for 2012, a total of 610 primary school girls dropped out of school due to pregnancy. In 2011, a total of 5,157 secondary school girls dropped out due to pregnancies. Underage marriage is another critical problem. Thousands of underage brides are often married off to men in some parts of rural Tanzania. In some cases, the husbands turn out to be older than their own fathers. Early marriage is a serious social problem in this country. Thousands of girls are married off before the statutory age of 16. Of course, the government, in league with NGOs and religious establishments, is now trying to eradicate this misguided practice. But even the statutory age of 16 is inappropriate. This age should have been pegged at 18, the age of majority. It should be understood that a girl aged 16 years is not biologically ripe to make children. She may be tall and robust. She may even look heftier than her own mother. But the reality is that she remains unripe for the task of managing a pregnancy, excruciating labour pains and delivery. Marrying off young girls to husbands is an old tradition that can be traced back to numerous generations. It remains persistent today. The practice is one of the principal causes of the now numerous pregnancy complications in young mothers. Many such marriages fail to work. The practice also denies the unfortunate girls access to education, especially those who get married at tender age. A girl aged 15 years is expected to be a Form Three student somewhere - not someone’s wife. Traditions are so powerful in many parts of Tanzania, especially among the Wamasai, Wakurya, and Wachagga in the north; the Wahehe and Wamakonde in the south; and the Wahaya in the west. Traditions also die hard in central Tanzania mainly among the Wagogo and Wanyamwezi. Deeply entrenched traditional values here mean that the local practice is for girls to marry when they are very young. Of particular concern to the government is the large number of pregnancy complications amongst young girls whose bodies are not yet ready to bear children. According to a report by the Women’s Dignity Project, obstetric fistulas are common complications. Women who have the fistula are often the young girls who are married early, before 15 for example, who are too poor to attend health services and try to deliver at home. Apart from being poor, these young mothers are often ignorant about motherhood. Medical experts say an obstetric fistula can occur because the woman’s pelvis is too small; the baby’s head is too big, or the baby is badly positioned; the woman can be in labour for five days or more without expert medical help and other unfortunate reasons. In most cases the baby dies. If the mother survives, she is left with extensive tissue damage to her birth canal that renders her incontinent - either of her bladder or bowel functions. This is the beginning of a medically pathetic situation for the young mother. Medics say corrective surgery is possible as long as the fistula - or hole - is not too big. Without surgery, young women damaged by an early pregnancy remain physically and psychologically scarred. This irreparable damage wrecks the life of the young woman. At the level of the family trouble for the woman starts at this juncture. The husband who took this unfortunate girl-bride in the first place will often turn his back on his wife, appalled at the smell and her inability to control her own motions. Many such women grow old childless in a tribal setting where motherhood is the essence of a woman’s value. A childless woman among the Wakurya is seen as a social misfit or outcast. Women’s dignity activists insist that the best approach now is to stop girls getting pregnant. It is imperative to insist here that underage marriages are abominable. Some of these unfortunate girls miss the prospect for education. Others drop out of school to get married. And there are those who marry immediately after accomplishing primary school education. Many get married off just before they comprehend the world around them. Throughout the world today there is a concern to recognize the constitutional rights of children.


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