By Daniel Sapuli, MANA
During the COVID-19 pandemic period from March-June, 2020, Thyolo District Hospital has recorded a staggering figure of 2,085 cases of teenage pregnancies.
Thyolo District Hospital coordinator for Youth Friendly Health Services, Steven Dimba has since expressed worry over the increase, which is a bit higher as compared to last year’s same reporting period that recorded 970 cases.
Dimba expressed the concern on Thursday at Matapwata CCAP Church in Senior Chief Chimaliro during an interface meeting which Blantyre Synod, under Nzatonse Project, conducted with various stakeholders.
The meeting was aimed at tackling issues pertaining to teenage pregnancies, child marriages and sexual gender-based violence among the youth.
Dimba described the increase in teenage pregnancies this year as very pathetic, saying it has increased at an alarming rate comparing to last year’s statistics.
He said the district hospital was worried with the situation, but commended Blantyre Synod for engaging community leaders and other government departments such as Social Welfare, hospital and youth on issues regarding teenage pregnancies, child marriages and sexual gender-based violence.
“We are working in coordination with Blantyre Synod to deal with sexual and reproductive health rights matters.
“One of the parameters we are looking into is to eradicate teenage pregnancies and child marriages as well as sexual gender based violence through different approaches,” Dimba added.
He, however, urged girls and young women to abstain from sexual activities while they are young, adding that if they fail to control themselves, they should then opt for contraceptive methods for them to complete their education without any hindrances.
Nzatonse Project Officer, Thocco Banda, urged chiefs and other community leaders to use by-laws established by government in a bid to end teenage pregnancies, child marriages and sexual gender-based violence.
In his remarks, Senior Chief Chimaliro said by-laws are being enforced, saying he has been holding meetings with his subordinates under his jurisdiction so that early pregnancies and child marriages as well as sexual gender based violence should completely come to an end.
The chief, therefore, warned his subjects that anyone not abiding by such by-laws would be penalised.
Meanwhile, Good Health Organisation has intensified its efforts to wipe out early pregnancies and marriages by among other things, drilling various community structures, including the youth, on sexual and reproductive rights and child protection in Kasungu District.
Through the ‘Kulimbikitsa Udindo ndi Uchembere Wabwino kwa Achinyamata (KUUWA)’ project, the organisation has embarked on several trainings of various community structures.
Youth clubs are included in the trainings and are expected to help in sensitising their communities on the dangers of early pregnancies and marriages after training.
Speaking during the training of girl mentors on Champions of Change, KUUWA child protection specialist, Angella Manyika said the trainings will expand awareness efforts government put in place to address the situation.
“We thought of organising this training for the girl mentors so that they can lead in challenging some social inequalities existing at community level that contribute to teenage pregnancies as well as child marriages,” Manyika said.
To ensure teenage girls and boys in hard-to-reach areas are fed with messages on sexual and reproductive health, the organisation also distributed 21 bicycles to girl mentors to ease their mobility.
In her remarks, one of the participants, Mercy Nkhoma of Kakwale Youth Club, said many girls lack important information on sexual and reproductive health rights, and child protection.
“Many girls are being forced by their parents and guardians to get married because the victims do not know what to do or where to report.
“These bikes will now help us reach out to as many girls as possible in remote areas to sensitise them on sexual and reproductive health messages,” Nkhoma said.
Kasungu‘s Gender Officer, Humphrey Longwe said the district has recorded over 455 cases of child marriages within the COVID-19 period, saying the development needs more interventions from development partners and the government.
“Our development partners here have really helped us in managing these cases whereby we have been going into places where these cases are.
“We will continue engaging various stakeholders such as development partners and community structures, to assist in dealing with the malpractice,” Longwe said.— Additional reporting by Dyson Kamwana, MANA