By Bernard Mpofu
Teenage pregnancies in some Mashonaland Central districts rose by 25 percent last year during nationwide lockdowns to slow down the spread of Covid-19, a government official has revealed.
Zimbabwe first went into lockdown at the end of March last year after the first cases of Covid-19 were recorded in the country.
Institutions such as schools were closed for a prolonged period as the country battled to manage the pandemic and experts say this resulted in more girls engaging in premature sexual activities.
Rudo Mari-Masanganise, Mashonaland Central provincial maternal and child health officer, said teenage pregnancies were higher in Mbire district.
“This has been a problem in our province,” Mari-Masanganise said.
“Despite recent economic growth and social progress on several fronts in the country, perceived determinants of teenage pregnancies include lack of knowledge on how to avoid pregnancy, lack of community responsibility, media influence, cultural beliefs that promote early marriage and pressure to contribute to family incomes through early marriage.”
She said some of the reasons for the spike in teen pregnancies included schoolgirls being idle due to Covid-19 lockdowns and small-scale miners, who lured young girls into sexual relationships in exchange for money.
“In this first quarter of 2021, we had 86 girls under the age of 16, who registered their pregnancies between January and March whilst 157 under 16 girls delivered at our health institutions,” Mari-Masanganise said.
She said the government had come up with several programmes to help reduce teen pregnancies.
“We have come up with various programmes such as health talks at schools to teach all students about adolescent sexual and reproductive health, community forums to engage with them so that they might be able to feel more inclined to seek services at the hospitals,” Mari-Masanganise added.
“Hopefully when we can continue with these programmes they will be coming in and be able to prevent these pregnancies.”
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, Zimbabwe already had one of the highest adolescents’ fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa of 108 per 1,000 girls among young women aged 15 to 19 years.
This was against the average fertility rate of 101 births per 1,000 young women aged between 15 and 19 recorded in the region.
The government says 5,000 teenage girls became pregnant in January and February and about 1,800 entered early marriages during the same period.