Almost one third of all women in developing countries have their first child at the age of 19 or younger. This is according to the latest study "Motherhood in Childhood" published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in June 2022.
Pregnancy and childbirth at a teenage age can have serious health consequences for young mothers and their babies. In Zimbabwe, early and teenage pregnancies account for about 30 percent of maternal deaths, according to the UNFPA Zimbabwe Fund. Early pregnancies also negatively impact girls' education and livelihood security. Research shows that there are various reasons for the high number of teenage pregnancies: early first sexual experiences, child abuse, and difficult access to contraceptives. Although the new 2020 Education Act still allows pregnant girls to attend school, implementing the law is challenging.
Freeing women from dependence
Another cause of teenage pregnancies is early marriage: according to UNFPA Zimbabwe, 19 percent of teenage pregnancies in the country are due to this. In addition, the prevailing economic situation in the country and growing poverty have driven up the rate of teenage pregnancies significantly. Due to the precarious economic situation and lack of education, teenage women often engage in sexual intercourse with older men in order to survive. Because of the power imbalance, adolescent girls and young women can hardly speak out for safer sex.
terre des hommes switzerland and its partners have been working in Zimbabwe since 2012. It has been shown that working with young people and raising awareness in the social and community environment is effective in reducing the high rates of teenage pregnancies. Practical experience on the ground as well as scientific findings clearly show that sustainable positive change in health behavior is the result of coordinated and simultaneous awareness-raising with adolescents and their environment. It is important to reach adolescents themselves, their families, communities, and key organizational and political levels.
With young people for young people
terre des hommes switzerland focuses on young people and their participation. However, participation of young people in the public sphere is only possible if they gain confidence to express themselves and are given the opportunity to do so. Therefore, the goal is to involve partner organizations and their youth leaders in all strategic discussions and processes. Sandra Chiomvu, a youth worker from our partner organization CBO Million Memory Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ), never tires of emphasizing: "Nothing for the young people without the young people!"
In cooperation with the Zimbabwean organization Katswe Sistahood, terre des hommes switzerland promotes lobbying in Zimbabwe. In this way, interested young people are shown the basics that will benefit them if they themselves want to participate publicly in shaping politics in the country. The results are impressive: Katswe Sistahood has worked with young people to produce a policy paper on teenage pregnancy and a handbook on how young people can get involved in parliament. Meetings have already been held with members of parliament where young people and all partner organizations have engaged with policy makers. A petition has also been submitted to parliament demanding that important laws regarding teenage pregnancies be revised. The petition has since been recognized and our partner organizations have had the opportunity to speak with key parliamentarians. Thus, after only one year, the lobbying has already shown considerable results and the advocacy of young people for young people in Zimbabwe seems to meet with acceptance. The knowledge gained by terre des hommes switzerland in Zimbabwe can also be used in the future in the work of partner organizations in other project countries. Because only if a broad public understands the importance of the work of NGOs, strategies of defamation and delegitimization will come to nothing.
Sexual and reproductive health
terre des hommes switzerland, together with local partner organizations in Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe, is campaigning for young people, their health and sexual rights. These are our goals: Access to comprehensive and youth-friendly medical care (contraception, information, counseling), prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (especially HIV), reduction of early pregnancies, education and empowerment of young people in their right to live their sexuality free from violence, discrimination and coercion.
Author: Hafid Derbal, Program Coordination Zimbabwe and South Africa, Theme Responsibility Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.