BY LORRAINE MUROMO
WOMEN’S rights groups yesterday said there was need for the government to cement the rights of pregnant girls in schools to stem rising cases of stigmatisation.
Zimbabwe recorded a sharp increase in teen pregnancies and child marriages during the COVID-19 lockdowns, with nearly 5 000 girls falling pregnant and 1 174 cases of child marriages being recorded between January and February 5 in 2021. This has further seen more girls being unable to attend school as they are stigmatised by both the teachers and their peers.
In 2020, President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed amendments to the Education Act that banned schools from stigmatising and prohibiting pregnant girls from attending classes.
The amendments also bar teachers from disciplining students by caning and allow students to continue attending class even if they owe fees.
In 2019, 60% of children in primary school were suspended because they owed school fees.
All Women Advocacy director Hazel Zemura said efforts should be made to ensure that pregnant girls were given a chance to be integrated into the school system.
“As All Women Advocacy, we say education is a basic human right for children. The law gives provision for pregnant girls to be in school. It is now the duty of parents, communities and other structures to support the integration of pregnant girls in school without stigma,” Zemura said.
“Teen pregnancies hinder a lot of things. Education is one of the available avenues to ensure girls who get pregnant while still in school get a chance to realise their other potentials.”
Self-Help Development Foundation executive director Wadzanai Vhere said school authorities should be capacitated to handle such cases with dignity.
“The education system has to ensure that we have teachers who are ready to receive these girls and provide social protection mechanisms and ensure that they are being abided by,” Vhere said.
Vhere said there was a need for schools to have counsellors and social workers to handle cases of teenage pregnancies in schools.
“The return of pregnant girls to school should be a managed process and a collaborative effort. These girls should be allowed the option to change schools.”