Pregnancies, HIV haunt teens

Teen pregnancy is a mounting epidemic, with far-reaching consequences for the lives of young girls.

12 September 2019 | Social Issues

Namibia is grappling with a stubbornly high national teenage pregnancy rate, which stands at 19%.

In the two Kavango regions alone, the teen pregnancy rate is 38%.

This was confirmed by Veronica Theron, the technical advisor in the Office of the First Lady, who pointed out that in the Kunene Region, among others, intergenerational sexual relationships are very common.

“Learners are staying in homes with their parents, but they are in sexual relationships. They are grades 10, 11 and 12 and even younger. They are going to school and have children as a couple. The relationships are characterised by domestic violence and substance abuse. We are talking about schoolgoing children,” Theron said.

She said some learners live together as husband and wife, although there was no evidence of child marriage in these cases.

Theron made these remarks on the sidelines of a multi-country dialogue to discuss progress in terms of advancing people-centred development in upper middle-income countries in southern Africa.

The dialogue was hosted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and focused on the quality of life and well-being of women and young people.

UNFPA regional director for the east and southern Africa region, Dr Julitta Onabanjo, said teen pregnancy is a mounting epidemic, with far-reaching consequences for the lives of young girls.

Onabanjo said further that teen pregnancy is a strong predictor of a girl's limited access to information and services, which would otherwise have empowered her.

“Globally, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls. In our region, HIV/Aids is the second ranked cause of adolescent mortality,” she said.

She said, on average, one in four girls in southern Africa will drop out of school because of an unwanted pregnancies.

“Namibia is reported to have among the highest teenage pregnancy rates among the southern Africa upper middle-income countries, with eight in 100 girls aged 15-19 years,” she said.

First Lady Monica Geingos emphasised that attitudes and mindsets have not changed.

She said the “pace of our progress is not fast enough, and we are incapable of protecting young people, particularly young girls”.

Geingos added there is a need to learn what is relevant for adolescents in this generation, and not what used to be relevant 25 years ago.

“I want to talk about prevention, I want to talk mindsets, because the service provider within the system is not immune from the preferences, prejudices and sentiments of the communities they come from. If we have a nurse who has to deal with a 15-year-old who wants contraceptives, but she is of the belief that young people must abstain, then you are going to have a problem,” she said.

HIV transmission

Meanwhile, adolescent girls and young women are also the most impacted by HIV infection in the region, with 4 500 adolescent girls and young women reported to be infected every week, while half of the people living with HIV in the world are from southern Africa, Onabanjo said.

“Global success in ending Aids therefore depends on our progress in our region. In doing so, we must elevate the role of prevention, especially for young people and adolescent girls, who are disproportionally affected,” she added.

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