Adult men mostly responsible for teen pregnancies
22 October 2021 | Local News
A total of 3 683 learner pregnancies were reported to the education ministry after schools began to reopen after lockdown in August 2020.
Also, 2 348 female learners left school because of pregnancy in 2020.
The education ministry released these figures on the last day of parliamentary public hearings on abortion on Thursday.
The ministry’s Ayesha Wentworth warned that learner pregnancies are a result – more often than not – of economic and social survival, and older men are the perpetrators. “Our kids are not having sex for pleasure. It’s more of a necessity. They have transactional sex to pay for food and other basic necessities.”
She underlined that the “majority of perpetrators are not school boys. That is another challenge. It’s adults who are impregnating these little girls.”
Wentworth said the data shows that girls as young as 11 engage in sex.
She added that despite mandatory reporting of learner pregnancies, many schools are reluctant to become involved in the legal and administrative quagmires of statutory rape cases, blocking the ministry from taking the necessary steps against the men.
She underlined that in some cases, the families of the girl and the male perpetrator, reach financial agreements to support the family – another roadblock to reporting pregnancies among young girls.
Moreover, the pandemic and lockdown provided potentially ripe grounds for increased pregnancies of school-age girls. “There was an increase of gender-based violence and abuse during lockdown; this also accounts for the increase in learner pregnancies.”
In addition, she said, lockdown hampered access to contraception and families struggled financially through pay-cuts and job losses.
Wentworth underscored that many schools do not report all learner pregnancies or drop outs, and the numbers could be potentially higher. She added that while girls can breastfeed their babies at school, after giving birth they cannot return to live at the hostel with their infants.
“A lot of the issues of not coming back is the cost of child care, when they don’t have someone to take care of the child, they have to remain at home. So there are a lot of social issues.”
The Omusati region reported 562 pregnancies after 2020’s lockdown, the highest number. The region also saw 294 teenage girls drop out of school due to pregnancy last year.
The Zambezi region reported 514 pregnancies among their female learners after lockdown, and 124 drop outs due to pregnancy.
In the Kavango West region, 522 learner pregnancies were recorded, and 520 in the Kavango East region. The regions reported that 241 (Kavango West) and 369 (Kavango East) girls left school due to becoming pregnant.
In the Ohangwena region, 443 learners were pregnant after lockdown, and 294 girls dropped out of school because of pregnancy.
The //Kharas region reported the lowest number of pregnancies amongst girls - 19.
The Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) admitted that while illegal and unsafe abortions are a reality, the current law should stand as it is.
Acting secretary general Ludwig Beukes said the church does not “deny the need to strengthen interventions to address the root causes of the social and economic problems that pushes teenagers and women to subject their lives and the lives of their unborn babies to this option of abortion.”
He added that the church does “not stigmatise and condemn those who commit those crimes”.
However, he and his co-presenters Ainna Kaunda and Shirley Magazi, argued that legalising safe abortions “is not the answer to unwanted babies, and neither is it the answer to women’s rights.”
He said the church admits it can do more to address the root causes of baby dumping and abortions, and funding should be pushed towards improving preventative programmes focused on family planning and access to health services.
Kaunda dismissed arguments that the current restrictive abortion law is an apartheid-era law that has become obsolete. “This is a valid and legitimate law. It doesn’t matter when it was passed,” she said.
She argued that “laws are an expression of the values and the morals and the beliefs of the people.”