Zimbabwe has scored major victories on the economic front since the beginning of the year, with everything looking set for a more prosperous outcome. However, sharp increase in teenage pregnancy and rising cases of drug and substance abuse over the past year threaten to destroy the social fabric, a key pillar for sustainable development.
The country’s demographic of a 67 percent youth population has been described as a strength on which the economy can build a formidable foundation. Africa at large is billed as the next centre of development because of its young population.
However, the twin challenges mentioned above present a major hindrance, particularly for Zimbabwe.
Resources and potential skills and brains are being lost as teenage girls fall pregnant, while on the other hand boys condemn their future to drug and substance abuse.
A fortnight ago I watched a documentary on ZBC TV of two teenage girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancy. One of them, scheduled to write her Ordinary Level examinations this year, had already given birth while the other was heavily pregnant and due for delivery.
They both had sad stories of how they regretted dropping out of school. And they were struggling to look after themselves. One of them was living with her grandmother who could not afford to look after her, let alone the child. The other girl stayed with her parents and confessed they beat her up every day regardless of her pregnancy and the fact that she was due any day.
This resulting from the anger and shock that their child had fallen pregnant, shattering the dream they had for her.
The interviewer asked them separately why they fell pregnant. They both said it was because of the lockdown.
“Palockdown tenge takushaya zvekuita.(We had nothing else to do during lockdown),” said one of them. What chic!
From the look of things the men/boys who impregnated them denied responsibility.
In our society section we carry a story with similar cases of school dropouts due to pregnancy. It states that at least 5 000 girls dropped out of school this year alone while an additional 1 800 entered into forced marriages.
This is also being attributed to the lengthy lockdown periods that left teenagers with a lot of idle time on their hands.
Zimbabwe entered its first lockdown on March 31 last year and has been under various levels of the restrictions as a strategy to contain the Covid-19 infections. This saw the closure of schools for an initial six months to September last year, while they delayed opening this year due to increased Covid-19 cases after the Christmas holidays.
The increased cases of pregnancy is actually a state of disaster by any measure. Dropping out of school alters the future of the girls in a big way. While some may pick-up from where they would have left in terms of education, the majority are largely condemned to poverty, abuse and other societal vagaries.
Education provides a bright future for the girl child who, once empowered, can make more informed choices about her life or be economically enabled to contribute to family, societal and national well-being.
The last few decades have seen the rights of the girl child upheld, with more girls enrolling into primary, secondary and tertiary education in vastly improved numbers unlike the days of old, making the world a better place.
Although the new Education Act which came into force last August makes provision for pregnant girls to attend school, many are said to be opting out due to stigmatisation.
This paints a very sad picture pertaining to the education and empowerment of the girl child and the short and long term effects thereof.
The future of the boy child is also under attack from the rampant drug and substance abuse.
Over the weekend a video was circulating on social media of parents who lamented increasing drug abuse. One woman said her son had dropped out of school. Several attempts to take him back to school had come to nought and he was now stealing clothes, mobile phones and other gadgets from family and neighbours and selling them to raise money for drugs. Another parent said his son was now staying at a drug peddler’s house and would refuse to come home. At some point the son had been taken to Parirenyatwa’s psychiatric unit after losing his mind. Drug peddlers and some of his friends in the game were now threatening parents over any initiatives to rescue their boys from the drug houses. Drug abuse is not a new phenomenon in this country but the situation has worsened in the past year, with boys now going for more complicated and dangerous drugs such as crystal meth, cocaine and broncleer, having graduated from marijuana which they have left for “amateurs”.
Depression, peer pressure, experiments and exposure to drug addicts in communities and internationally via the internet, are some of the reasons brought forward for drug abuse.
Again lockdown have been advanced as an excuse to do drugs due to idleness. The logic here beats me. There are so many progressive things to do for the young ones such as house chores, gardening, income generating projects such as poultry-rearing, studying via internet or group discussions via such platforms as whatsapp that can gainfully occupy the youths.
A study of young people in Zimbabwe in 2019 showed 57 percent prevalence of drug abuse among the youth.
A high number were ignorant of the effects of the drugs they took.
A breakdown of the family support system was a major reason for drug and substance abuse according to the findings of the study.
This scenario points to a bleak future for the next generation if something is not done to rid the country of such moral decadence. The youth demographic may mean more problems than solutions if it is not attended to with haste.
Many questions beckon for answers. What has become of our society, what has happened to our culture?
Who is to blame for the current state of affairs? How can the situation be remedied?
While the Covid-19 induced lockdowns have disrupted school programmes, among many others, this cannot be a justifiable reason for increased miscreants.
Families and society in general have an obligation to impress high moral values upon the youths. Christian and cultural values do not condone sexual activities outside marriage. Teenagers need to be taught to uphold value systems that have created stability and a sense of Ubuntu over generations.
It is always argued that access to western values and cultures has exposed the youths but we can counter-argue that a well-groomed teen should be intelligent enough to know what to adopt and what to disregard if they have been taken through the paces of what life is about.
Of course we cannot rule out a few bad apples who will still do the unthinkable despite efforts by parents and other relatives to have them lead descent lives. Parents need to be more strict in enforcing discipline and should also be watchful of their children so they can pick an untoward behaviour at an early stage. They need to keep their children engaged in productive activities so that they are not idle.
Furthermore, the disintegration, in most instances, of a family system where elders in the family would counsel the young ones about life and how to navigate potential pitfalls has also contributed to the unfortunate situation many find themselves in today.
Therefore, it is critical that such systems be restored in that form or through improved methods that take into account the modern way of doing things and the effects of urbanisation.
The First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa’s Munhanga/mugota/ixiba programme should be applauded for going a long way in restoring proper values in the youths. Girls and boys are being taught the essence of life and what is expected of them in the family unit.
The prosper-thy-neighbour concept of old where the community collectively looked after all children within its sphere, counselling and admonishing errant behaviour among its children also needs to be restored so that the youths become aware that more eyes are watching them other than their parents’ or guardians.
Furthermore, schools need to activate their responsibility of inculcating and rewarding good behaviour.
Working in concert with parents in this regard can only create a better youth in this country. The youths need to have access to information on the dangers of drugs and engaging in premarital sex. This may discourage them from engaging in such.
Such programmes as girl guides, brownies and boy scouts in schools have previously played a key role in shaping behaviour. Schools need to adopt more of these.
While we condemn the youths, it is also critical to note that some of them engage in destructive behaviour innocently. Pull factors such as a history of abuse, poverty, admiration of national and international personalities who make such behaviours as the in-thing, affect perceptions and lead many astray.
On their part, the youth must know that abdicating their responsibility and contribution to society through drug abuse and pre-marital sexual activities only comes back to haunt them. They have a responsibility to take the button stick and run their race in building a great legacy for their families, country and the world at large.
They are the leaders of tomorrow who should make wise decisions about life from a young age.
We cannot have a vacuum in between generations.
We need successive leaders and game-changers who will consolidate gains made by current generations and build on a solid foundation of hard work, team effort, visionary thinking and other tenets that make the world a better place.
They need to safeguard and add value to resources at their disposal and this can only be conducted successfully by a more focused and sober youth. (Pun-intended).
In God I trust!
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