A Malawi government-led Covid-19 rapid assessment on teenage pregnancies and child marriages indicated that the country recorded 13,000 cases of child marriages and over 40,000 cases of teen pregnancies during the Covid-19 period. The numbers are highly alarming and worrisome. In the next years, we will still be dealing with the implications that this has on our country.
As a preventive measure against Covid-19, the Malawi government imposed a nationwide lockdown which resulted in the closure of schools. Thousands of students were affected by the emergency closure of schools. Girls, being out of school for such a long period increased their risk of getting pregnant, getting married, and eventually dropping out of school. Peer pressure, lack of sexual reproductive health services, overemphasis on abstinence, and poverty are usually cited as the main contributing factors to teenage pregnancies and child marriages. Even though these factors are well known, few measures have been put in place.
During emergencies, it proves that there is little to no regard for people who might be negatively affected by the emergency measures. Such a disregard for the problems which are caused by these measures has long-lasting effects on our country. Girls’ futures should be protected and considered even during emergencies.
Sadly, sex education in primary and secondary school lacks depth and practical information. Children learn sex only education to pass exams and not necessarily to use it in their everyday life. When students are out of school, they do the opposite of the little knowledge they obtained from subjects like Life Skills. The youth also lack reproductive health services like contraceptive methods services, guidance, and counseling. Mostly, they are left to deal with issues on their own.
Of course, teen pregnancy prevention programs and other interventions which help girls stay in school have proven effective. Unfortunately, they are not implemented all over the country. Sometimes these programs are only available for a short period and don’t permanently address the issues.
It’s high time we realized that not only parents are responsible for their children’s welfare. Communities, schools, healthcare service providers, and the children themselves should work together in finding permanent solutions. On top of that, students should be taught that the knowledge they get from sex education can be applied outside the classroom. It should be emphasized that such subjects are in the curriculum for the same reason. Lastly, there should be more depth in subjects that cover sex education in both primary and secondary schools.
We cannot continue to be shocked by the numbers each and every year.
There is a lot that should and can be done.