AT the age of 17, while still doing her Form three studies at Mucheri Secondary School in Zvimba, the lure of money pushed Theresa Mlambo (Not real name) into an early marriage with her cattle minder lover, a move she regrets to date.
By Michael Gwarisa recently in Zvimba
Just like many girls in the area who have dropped out of school in pursuit of marriages with Amakorokoza (Artisanal miners), farm workers and cattle headers, Theresa’s marriage did not last as she would leave her man nine months later upon realising he had concealed his HIV status from her only for her to realise he was positive the day their daughter was born. Unfortunately, for her it was too late as her result also come out positive.
Now that she was a single mom and faced with the ordeal of fending for her child, Theresa was forced to stop breastfeeding her baby and look for a job as a house maid in Norton. The fact that she was still healing from her first child childbirth wounds did not deter Theresa from venturing into fresh sexual gymnastics the moment she set foot in Norton as she would again fall pregnant eight months later to a man who has since dumped and abandoned her.
A closer look at her thin and frail looking pregnant figure, dry chapped lips and facial skin reflects someone who is in urgent need of nutritional supplements and a better diet. The more her tummy bulges daily, the more reality kicks in that she now has a two year old baby to feed and another one on the way. Faced with the dilemma of fending for her child and unborn baby, coupled with the neglect from her family, she has contemplated suicide on countless occasions.
“I was still going to school when I had my first pregnancy. I was doing form three when I eloped after I had fallen pregnant. A few days into our marriage, my husband fell sick and he went to a health facility and got tested but he did not reveal his results to me. We stayed for at least five months before moving to his rural home in Mtoko. In Mtoko, I would visit the ANC clinic up to the time I gave birth.
“I got tested soon after giving birth and my results came out as positive and my husband was also tested and came out as positive as well. That is when I knew that he had known his status all along. We had serious fights since that day, I told my parents about it and four months after the birth of my daughter, I left him and returned home to my parents,” said Theresa.
Circumstances at home which include verbal abuse from her parents and the hard economic hardships forced her to only feed her baby for 11 months before she set out to look for a Job. She got a job as house main in Norton.
“After getting the new job, I would visit home frequently to see my daughter. I only worked for eight months before I fell pregnant again. My new boyfriend promised he would marry me, he promised to come and pay lobola for me.
“I then returned home after realising that my boyfriend was becoming scarce and hard to get. I returned but could not gather the guts to tell my parents that I was carrying a second pregnancy. I concealed it for a while since I feared my parents would chase me away. I went back to Norton to look for my boyfriend, I found him but he is no longer interested in me, I just asked him to buy me preparation for my unborn child but still he is giving fake promises.
“When I returned from Norton, my parents chased me away. As we speak, I am seven months pregnant and I don’t even know where I will get preparation for my baby.”
She says she has learnt her lesson and does not want to repeat her mistakes again. She wants to open a new page of life and wants to go back to school if help comes along.
Theresa now finds solace in the in the Youth Friendly centre at Kasanze which is run by Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) through funding from IPF. The youth friendly centre plays host to not less than 50 young people from a target age group of 10 to 24. The place offers a package of services which range from clinical services, Sexual Reproductive Health Services (SRHR), family planning and contraceptives, HIV testing and counselling recreational services, social counselling, health stocks and outreach programs, parent to child communication programs (PCC) among a host of other services.
“I now want to participate positively in impacting lives of young girls in this community. I now know the risk of not having access to Sexual reproductive health services. Thank God, all those services are present at this youth center for free.
“I am one of the young single mothers who come to the Youth friendly center. The place does not discriminate against us and we receive comprehensive sexuality education and i wish to also pass on the information to other young girls. I have realised my mistakes and i now want to back to school and start afresh so that my children will have a brighter future one day.”
More girls in Zvimba face Theresa’s plight and the presence of Artisanal mining in nearby localities such as Gadzema and Eldorado Mine in Chinhoyi pose an even a greater threat to the future of girls around Zvimba and some parts of Mash West. In 2019, eight girls from Mucheri secondary school dropped out of school after falling pregnant.
In an interview with HealthTimes, Youth Facilitator for Kasanze Youth Friendly Centre, Faith Nemashakwe said there is an increase in teenage pregnancies in the area and more needed to be done to educate young girls on the risks of early marriages and early pregnancies.
“The figures of young girls falling pregnant are fluctuating, before we had a huge number dropping out of school because of pregnancy that was before we introduced the youth centre program. Now that we go in schools and communities teaching teaching about SRHR issues, the numbers at times decrease. The numbers are now going up, last year alone, we had a high number of girls dropping out of school and we are still trying to find out. I think it is due to economic hardships, girls prefer to get married than stay at home and starve.
“At the local high school, we had about eight girls dropping out of school at Mucheri secondary school. At times there is nothing we can do because the policy does not allow us to talk about contraceptives in school. However, we are intensifying our Comprehensive sexually education (CSE) package,” said Nemashakwe.
Mashonaland West province has at least five youth friendly centres that are operational namely Kasanze, Zvimba, Kariba, Magunje and Makande. ZNFPC Mash West provincial Marketing and Communication Officer, Mr Ansetus Dongo said the battle against teenage pregnancies was yet to be won even though indications on the ground point to a brighter future.
“We have managed to penetrate into the communities around the youth centres and we have managed to bring some sort of awareness amongst all involved be it traditional leaders, parents, parents to child communication and other stakeholders. There is a positive trajectory in terms of where we are going, we are looking at it and seeing that yes, things are changing.
“We have not really won the war exactly as yet in terms of teenage pregnancies, we have realised that quite a number of young people are dropping out of school because of teenage pregnancies. You realise that the reason why the youth centre here at Kasanza is located here is because we had seen that this district had recorded high cases of HIV among young people, STIs and teen pregnancies so you would find hat that’s why it was cited to be in Kasanza,” said Mr Dongo.
He added that the parents are now referring their kids to the youth centre after realising that it has the potential to shape a clear and positive direction for their children.
ZNFPC Mash West provincial manager, Mr Geshem Madzingaidzo said they have devised strategies to educate and inform the communities around the issues of SRHR so as to curb the rise of unwanted pregnancies, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) among other health issues.