By Idah Mhetu
TEENAGE pregnancies have turned into a scourge in the run-down settlement of Hopley on Harare’s southern fringes, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said last week.
Ncube told President Emmerson Mnangagwa, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) officials and residents gathered for the commemorations of World Population Day that some 21% of teenagers in the informal settlement engage in early sexual activities while some are already in marriages.
“In Hopley we have 200 000 people, of which 65 000 are the youths, 21% of girls are involved in teenage pregnancies and 18% are in child marriages. This is what we want to put behind us and clearly Tariro Community Centre and clinic is part of the process of making sure that we can harness the demographic dividend and change dependency ratio.
“Without changing the dependency we cannot successfully move the demographic dividend and we cannot even move to the next stage so that the future generations live a better life,” Ncube said.
Hopley Farm settlement was created to make way for victims of a government slum clearance campaign commonly known as Operation Muarambatsvina in May 2005 that left 700 000 people homeless.
Reports say some of the children as young as nine have been driven into prostitution because of poverty.
Mnangagwa warned all the people involved in early child marriages that they risk jail as the country has laws in place to deal with perpetrators of child abuses.
“We now have a law that criminalises that practice (child marriages and prostitution). We would want both boys and girls to compete their academic studies and should you plan a family that should happen at the appropriate age. Those who commit that offence will be sent to Chikurubi (Maximum Security Prison).
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Some of you will remember my words from behind those walls,” said Mnangagwa.
In 2018, Population Services Zimbabwe (PSZ) revealed that teenage pregnancies, are a major contributor to maternal and child mortality. These remain high at 22% in the country, a result of lack of family planning information and services at their disposal according to officials.
While some teenagers are getting pregnant due to lack of information, on the use of different family planning methods, research shows that contraception prevents diseases, maternal deaths and unsafe abortions, which are illegal in Zimbabwe.
However, Mnangagwa bemoaned the high maternal mortality rate in the country and called for investment in strengthening the skills of midwives and doctors as well as the supply of essential medical equipment to avert such deaths.