FRANCISTOWN: It appears the campaigns against teenage pregnancy in Botswana are failing to bear desired fruits.
For years high teenage pregnancy rates have been a concern in the country. Last week, Education and Skills Development minister, Unity Dow, expressed concern about the soaring rates of teenage pregnancies in the country.
Government has put in place several interventions to reduce the scourge, which include coming up with a guidance and counselling syllabus designed and developed to comprehensively address issues of sexual education at all school levels.
Dow was quoted as saying the ministry was working on several initiatives to overcome teenage pregnancy problems. She did not elaborate.
Recently, Health Minister, Dorcas Makgatho said the social variables that contribute to teenage pregnancy should be identified in order to reduce the problem.
Makgatho said that while the country had a good policy framework with pragmatic aims of overcoming the problem, it was also important to have interactive dialogue with all stakeholders affected by teenage pregnancy to get feedback and solutions.
Meanwhile, teenage pregnancies are still occurring at an alarming rate. Last year 78 students fell pregnant at Mmadinare and Matshekge Senior Secondary Schools, trends that are repeated countrywide. Twenty-seven of the students were at Matshekge and the balance at Mmadinare.
This year, between January and April, 12 students dropped out at Matshekge, while 10 were forced out at Mmadinare, due to pregnancies.
During the same period, nine students left Gantsi Senior and four left Chobe Junior for the same reasons.
Francistown Senior School headmaster, Zaphania Tabona reported that his school recorded 14 cases of pregnancy in 2014. Thus far this year, the school has recorded six.
His colleague at Mater Spei College, Joseph Munyere, reveals that eight students have dropped out of school this year with six due to pregnancy, one due to illness and the other abscondment.
While the education ministry did not provide Mmegi with nationwide statistics as requested, the available figures indicate that the fight against teenage pregnancy remains far from being won.
The question that remains on the lips of many is: What exactly needs to be done to win the battle against teenage pregnancy?
Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) secretary general, Tobokani Rari, said that the numbers of students who fall pregnant concerns the labour movement.
“Students are our clients and when they fall pregnant, we become worried regardless of the numbers,” he said.
Rari recommended that all education stakeholders should carry out a study to determine the real causes of teenage pregnancy and come up with solutions. He also believes that the number of professional counsellors in schools should be increased.
“In fact some teachers were trained as counsellors but instead of doing their counselling roles, they are deployed to teach the subjects they were initially trained for before they trained as counsellors. I am one of those teachers,” Rari said.
There are no simple solutions to the causes of teenage pregnancy, says Gorgeous Chinkonono, a social worker by profession.
In 2013 Chinkonono carried out a study to find out why students at Lotsane Senior School dropped out of school due to teenage pregnancy. In her study, Chinkonono interviewed 15 teenage girls who dropped out of school at Form 4 due to teenage pregnancy.
Chinkonono said she discovered that teenage pregnancy is a worrying issue because it destroys the future of the students and leaves them disillusioned. The social worker believes teenage pregnancy is mainly caused by insufficient knowledge given to students on sex matters.
Chinkonono said effective measures to prevent teenage pregnancy depend heavily on sex education at school and the home environment.
“The school environment is key in the socialisation of young people.
However, measures are mostly introduced to students at senior school level when they are already actively involved in sexual relationships,” said Chinkonono.
For the social worker, immoral older men play a major role in teenage pregnancies.
“It is disheartening that some men take advantage of students who are inexperienced in sexual matters. In some instances, men have sex with the students without using contraceptives and even infect them with sexually transmitted diseases.”
As part of the solution to address the matter, Chinkonono suggested that sex education be introduced to children at junior secondary school level so that they learn earlier about the risks of sex.
“All key stakeholders from parents, teachers to government, should take part in coming up with solutions to stem the tide of teenage pregnancy.
“We should stop the habit of pointing fingers and reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancy. The input of all stakeholders should be taken on board to overcome the scourge of teenage pregnancies,” said Chinkonono.
Another social worker, Kgomotso Jongman believes the disintegration of the family is to blame for teenage pregnancies among students.
“Parents do not sit down with their children and talk about sex as well as general life lessons and as such children end up seeking love outside the family,” he said.
“In some instances the vulnerable children meet older men who entice them with material possessions.”
Jongman said moral decay has grown to the extent that some parents develop love relationships with children who are young enough to be their grandchildren.
“Children who fall in love with elders are vulnerable.
“They should learn not to be tempted by material things but strive to learn so that they can in future own the things that some irresponsible elders give them,” said Jongman.
The problem, Jongman believes, can be solved if the nation reflects, revisit its family values and teaches children to make responsible choices.
According to Parents and Teachers’ Association national chairperson, Sam Magama both the general members of the community and parents should be held accountable for the rising number of teenage pregnancies among students.
Like Chinkonono and Jongman, Magama believes some community members turn students into their girlfriends and subsequently impregnate them.
“As for parents they are not playing their parenting role adequately. This has led to some students falling pregnant.”
“Parents, community members and education stakeholders should all come together and root out teenage pregnancies in schools as well any other form of unruly behaviour among students.”
The problem of teenage pregnancies at schools has not only rankled parents and teachers; it is also troubling the traditional leadership.
Kgosi Thabo Masunga Maruje III said teenage pregnancy is a rising concern and the time has come to look into its various causes and possible remedies.
“In the past there were mentors in the community that children looked up to for guidance in life in general. In my view these are short today.
“This problem is also compounded by the fact that some parents have abdicated their responsibilities of providing for the material and psychological needs of their children which leaves children at the mercy of the so called ‘sugar daddies’,” said Masunga.
According to Masunga, parents who shirk away from their responsibilities leave their children at the mercy of depraved elders who engage in intergenerational sex with children.
“Factors such as alcohol and substance abuse accompanied by unrestricted interaction with the opposite sex can ignite the sparks of lust and passion in youngsters very easily, leading ultimately to teenage pregnancy.”
The unrestricted use of social media, Masunga believes, also contributes to teenage pregnancy among students.
“Teenagers may visit sites that entice them to engage in sex from a young age. Social media platforms have positive and negative effects but it is very dangerous for children to visits these sites in the absence of parents,” Masunga said.
The traditional leader believes that the media should inform society about the risks associated with teenage pregnancy in order to reduce the problem. He said that it is therefore important to impart adequate sex education to adolescents so that the children become aware of the various risks of teenage sex and pregnancy at early ages. In addition, schools and society need to instill the importance of moral and ethical values when talking to their children about sex matters in an open manner, he said.
“Parents need to put aside embarrassment and start talking to their children about sex. I know that in our culture it is somewhat taboo to talk about sex with children openly but the times have now changed.”