Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu/ Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporters
GOVERNMENT is facilitating that pupils who fell pregnant during the lockdown period be allowed to attend lessons in their clothes while child support committees have been established to mentally equip them to return to school.
The country’s Education Act allows pregnant pupils to go to school without the risk of being expelled.
Public schools reopened on Monday for the Grade Seven, Form Four and Form Six Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) sitting classes.
Schools had been closed since March and it is said that some of the learners fell pregnant during the period when learning institutions were closed.
The recently gazetted Education Amendment Act says no pupil will be excluded from school on the basis of pregnancy and this brought to relief to pregnant school-going girls who over the years have been subjected to scorn, abuse, rejection and discrimination by members of their communities.
There had been stiff resistance from some sections of society who felt the law would encourage promiscuity.
Teenagers, besides mental immaturity, have under-developed pelvises which increase the risk to obstructed labour, maternal deaths, paralysis and obstetric fistula.
Early sexual engagement also increases the risk of girls suffering cervical cancer which is the leading cancer in Zimbabwe and one of the killer diseases among women.
In the run-up to the tabling of the bill during debate in Parliament, the then Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Professor Paul Mavima, said expelling a girl for falling pregnant had a discriminatory effect in circumstances where she would have been impregnated by a colleague who in most cases, would be allowed to proceed with his education.
Speaking during question and answer on Wednesday in Parliament, Bulawayo MDC-Alliance proportional representation Member of Parliament, Ms Dorcas Sibanda said there were a lot of pregnant girls who are supposed to go back to school.
“We have seen some of our girls now that it is back to school – some are pregnant. What is Government position in terms of those girls to go back to school? Most of the girls are now stuck in the child marriages – is there anything which the Government is doing to make sure that they help those children who are stuck in child marriages and to make sure that the girls who got pregnant during the lockdown are able to go back to school?” said Ms Sibanda.
Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister Dr Sithembiso Nyoni said Government was aware that school going children fell pregnant during the lockdown period.
Minister Nyoni said she had set up committees to help the affected girls.
“We are very concerned as a ministry and she is right that with this lockdown, a lot of girls are pregnant and we are working with the Ministry of Education. We have formed Child Support Committees of women, mothers that are supporting such girls and we are encouraging them to go back to school,” said Minister Nyoni.
“Indeed, some of them will have their uniforms now not fitting because they are bigger than before Covid-19 because of pregnancy and we are talking to schools so that they are allowed to go in their own clothes.
The important thing is that the whole community needs to support such girls, the teachers need to support them and there is need for peer to peer support.”
She added that it was also important to help the children understand that falling pregnant is not always the girl’s fault.
“Some girls are cornered into pregnancy and I have got some examples of girls whom we supported to go and write examinations and they did much better than the boys. So, we need to continue to support them to go to university, colleges and also to take up jobs because having a child does not mean that you are now disabled or you cannot do much in life.”
According to Minister Nyoni, young girls are being paired with the elderly women nationwide for mentorship as means to breed empowered women who will take up leadership positions.
“In the ministry, we have got a programme that says ‘Bridging generational and digital gap’ in which we are pairing young women and experienced retired women to try and make sure that they mentor the young women, but in terms of gender equality we also cannot have gender equality unless you strengthen and ensure that the young woman takes up her position because the men will not give her the position,” added Minister Nyoni.
She said in trying to mentor the young women and link them to the experienced women, girls would be empowered to fight their way into any position in society.
“So, gender equality is not about the man giving the young women space but it is about strengthening the young women to try, create and occupy the space they want in society.”
Mutare Central legislator Mr Innocent Gonese added that it was important for victims of child marriages to be protected.
“We have a situation where girls have already entered into marriage when they are below the age of 18 and in view of the fact that the provision which relate to penalties or functions which can be meted out to those who would have been responsible for placing them in that situation are not yet in place, my question to the Hon. Minister is; what measures have been put in place to assist girls who find themselves in such a situation?” asked Mr Gonese.
In response Minister Nyoni said she had engaged traditional leaders to help protect and support girls who find themselves in that predicament.
“One of the programmes that we have is to also work with traditional leaders because that is where the girls, especially in rural areas are coming from. If traditional leaders are sympathetic and they understand that young girls need to be protected they usually also educate the community so that together they take corrective measures in support of the girls.” — @thamamoe — @nqotshili