- Southern Africa
- Education - Sexuality
Zimbabwe government accused of promoting teen sex
Zimbabwe government has defended its controversial decision to grant parental leave to schoolgirls who fall pregnant as parents accused it of promoting teen sex.
In August, the Zimbabwe government announced a shock move to allow girls who fall pregnant to go on leave for three months and resume studies soon after giving birth. Also the boys responsible for the pregnancy would be granted leave so as to encourage them to support the mother.
The government argues that the boys should also feel the pain of temporarily halting school and this should be deterrent to would-be offenders.
Although, this would have attracted automatic expulsion from school in the past, the government of the southern African country said it wanted to be at par with regional counterparts including South Africa and Namibia, which try to accommodate rather than stigmatize teen moms.
However, the development has not gone down well with conservative groups such as Our Culture, a group that conducts programmes in schools to teach Zimbabweans about their culture.
"It is taboo to allow such absurdity… It is unmentionable in African culture to allow girls to get pregnant, let alone promote it" said Muchineripi Marere, the group’s head.
But the government retorts that it is a matter of common sense.
"I think we have been punishing our children, who in most cases would have fallen pregnant because of a lack of knowledge of the hazards of what they are doing," Minister of Education David Coltart said.
Added Coltart, "I know we have received a bashing on this. But I think we are just being realistic. Teenage pregnancy happens and we can’t run away from that situation. Expelling them is retrogressive as it promotes illiteracy, something which we, as a government, are totally against."
But the move has found backing from intellectuals and some parents of pregnant teenagers.
"It never made sense that in Zimbabwe, the girl who fell pregnant was expelled while the boy who made her pregnant remained in school to finish his education," Zimbabwe’s Petina Gappah. "Here again, the government of Zimbabwe shows that, where it chooses to be, it can be progressive. More of the same please!"
Alfred Chando, a senior lecturer University of Zimbabwe said the move was long overdue.
“Female students have their own needs that must be accommodated, which, if not acknowledged at policy formulation level, might not be addressed at policy implementation level,” she says.
“Teenage pregnancy is not a disciplinary issue; it is part and parcel of the challenges that accompany maturation …
“This is the time in the human cycle of life when hormonal changes are taking place, and with very limited support systems to guide youths through the challenges."
While there are no statistics available on the number of girls who fall pregnant in the southern African country of 12 million people, critics have blamed President Mugabe’s policies for the decline of the country, whose education system was the envy of Africa.