Eastern Province last year recorded over 24,700 adolescence pregnancies.
Eastern Province permanent secretary Chanda Kasolo says: “Unfortunately, in the province we have high numbers of adolescence pregnancies for 2018. The total number is 24,731 and this is from January to December 2018. So the affected ages are from 12 to 20 years. This is regardless whether these are married or not. Others will call it disgusting but we have got to try and find a way of alleviating this problem. This is a problem because it is taking potential winners in our economy, some of these people would have been doctors, managers of banks, big politicians and so on or they could have been big entrepreneurs making a lot of money for Zambia and employing some of our people.”
But this is not an Eastern Province problem only. It is a national challenge.
Adolescent girls in Zambia continue to experience the disproportionately high burden of sexual and reproductive ill health.
High adolescent pregnancies with adverse health and social consequences are urgent problems facing all our provinces.
Adolescents are likely to have complications of pregnancy including unsafe abortion and more are likely to become young mothers a second time. Their infants are also more likely to be born premature and to die in the perinatal period. Babies born to adolescent mothers face a substantially higher risk of dying than those born to women aged 20 to 24. They are at risk of malnutrition, low mental and physical development, inappropriate social connection with parents and poor education.
Adolescents develop psychological problems from social stigma, suffer physical and domestic violence in their attempt to meet the demands of pregnancy and childbearing. Also, they most likely would drop out and may not get the chance to return to school.
Economic opportunities are limited to adolescents who could not complete school because of unintended pregnancies. This could be the beginning of a poverty cycle in families. However, some are able to face the challenge and become productive later in life.
Factors associated with unintended pregnancies amongst adolescents are early marriages, culture, religion, gender, poor social and economic support; curiosity and peer pressure, lack of comprehensive sexuality education, poor reproductive health services provision, poor attitude of health workers to providing contraceptive services for adolescents; and also unmet need for contraceptives by adolescents and fear of contraceptive side effects. Barriers to contraceptive use among adolescents include inadequate sexual knowledge and risk perceptions. Also, lack of skills and power to negotiate safer sex options, ambivalence towards sex, and negative social norms around premarital sexual activity and pregnancy.
Our leaders need to understand the determinants of adolescent pregnancy in their context in order for them to come up with pragmatic interventional programmes to reduce unintended pregnancies amongst adolescents.
One of the major causes of these teenage pregnancies is not keeping the girl child much longer in school.
If a girl is kept in school for 12 years – grade one to twelve – she will be about 17, 18, 19 or 20 years old. And if after that she opts to attend college or university for two, three or four years, she will about 23, 24 or 25 years when she is finishing college or university. If she decides to work for two years after leaving college or university before having her first child, she will be about 25, 26, 27 or 28 years when she has her first baby. In this way teenage pregnancies are reduced – no magic or witchcraft. Just keep the girl child in school a little longer. But keeping the girl child in school a little longer costs money! And 76.6 per cent of our people living in rural areas live below the poverty line. In Eastern Province the poverty level is 70 per cent. In addition to this, Eastern Province has one of the lowest school attendance levels in the country.