30 Zambian high schoolers granted maternity leave

A Zambian secondary school has granted 30 female students between 13 and 16 years old maternity leave

A Zambian secondary school has granted 30 female students between 13 and 16 years old maternity leave

LUSAKA – A Zambian secondary school has granted 30 female students between 13 and 16 years old maternity leave, Education Minister John Phiri revealed Friday, saying the country's teen pregnancy problem was "getting out of control."

"The school had 30 pupils in the family way [i.e., who got pregnant] in the first term of the year, compelling them to abandon school and return home," Phiri, who named the school as the Kaoma High School in the Western Province, told the press in Lusaka on Friday.

"Ten pupils from the school proceeded on maternity leave shortly after starting their grade-ten classes. The school administration suspects the girls were pregnant even before joining the school, but we are yet to verify this fact," he said.

He went on to note that, of the 30 girls, twelve were day students while another eight were in boarding school.

"I think there is a need for both parents and the school administration to scale out effort to curb the problem of girls getting pregnant whilst at school. This problem is now getting out of hand; we need to have it controlled, otherwise it will tarnish the image of our education system," the minister said.

According to U.N. figures, over 30 percent of Zambian girls between 15 and 19 years old are either pregnant or already have children.

Phiri urged Parents and Teachers’ Associations (PTAs) to help combat the phenomenon.

"These people should transfer skills and innovations and begin to monitor the activities at school. There is a need for involvement of all stakeholders to curb the problem, which has become rife at the institution," he said.

"I want to urge parents in particular to take an active role in the input and output of education," Phiri added. "They should realize that the value of education could only bear fruits if – and only if – their children have gone to school."

Similarly, the minister implored stakeholders to research the trend with a view to understanding the root cause of the problem.

He warned that if nothing was done to correct the situation, his ministry might be tempted to revoke the statutory instrument that allows female students to come back to school after having given birth.

"I hope parents will do their part in trying to resolve the problem where a lot of pupils get pregnant during their school careers. Otherwise, I might just be tempted to revoke the instrument that provides for the re-entry policy," said Phiri.

Meanwhile, the Forum for Women Educationists of Zambia (FAWEZA) has disclosed that over 15,000 Zambian schoolgirls of the same age become pregnant each year.

"Our records show that every year about 15,000 school-going girls get pregnant in different schools across the country. It is unfortunate that we have allowed the situation to degenerate this far; we need to do something to correct the situation," FAWEZA Director Lillian Kapalu told Anadolu Agency.

Kapalu, who attributed the trend to cultural practices in which girls are initiated into sexual activity at an early age, said the number of teenage mothers benefiting from the school re-entry policy was actually quite low.

"Our snapshot survey on early marriages from the Choma district education board secretary in Southern Province alone, out of 86 schools of the 200 that submitted their annual reports by November 31, 2013 in the district, a total of 485 girls in grade five and twelve had dropped out of school due to early marriages," she said.

She went on to point out that Southern Province had reported the largest number of pregnancies – 2394 – and a low re-admission rate of 679.

"An average of 14,849 girls is reported pregnant every year [in Zambia]: 12,759 in grades one to nine and 2096 in grades ten to 12," she said.

According to Kapalu, a total of 441 girls have got pregnant in the Lusaka and Copperbelt provinces this year alone.

"With the revelations of the number of girls who fall pregnant, it means the future of most of these girls is uncertain. These girls, some of whom have not finished secondary school, will not be economically independent as they lack an education," she said.

She went on to stress the important role played by education in raising awareness, delaying marriage and childbearing, and reducing Zambia's otherwise high fertility rates.

"The issue of early pregnancies has an effect on the country's national development and hinders young people from attaining their full potential… Early pregnancies are an abrupt disruption to education," lamented Kapalu.

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