Speaking during an interaction session on teenage pregnancy organized by UNFPA and the Ministry of Health on Tuesday, the youth said the increasing number of early marriages and teen pregnancies in the district is an indicator of poor planning and coordination among NGOs working in the sexual reproductive (SRH) sector.
“We have a number of NGOs coming to work in the district to address issues related to SRH but these only go to areas close to town denying services to youth in hard to reach communities,” said Prudence Chavula, Executive Director for Go fund A Girl Child, a youth organisation operating in the district.
“In most cases,” she added, “the NGOs come with packaged interventions from their headquarters and they don’t even know the actual problems faced by young people in our communities. That’s why we are failing to root out child marriages in the district.”
Mangochi has a largely youthful population with 55 percent of the population below the age of 18. During the school closures due to COVID-19, the district experienced a spike in teen pregnancies and child marriages, which the youths blamed on lack of SRH information to help them make informed decisions.
“For instance, no proper measures were taken to mitigate the impact caused by school closures due to COVID-19,” added Chavula. “Although there were attempts to introduce radio lessons to allow us to learn from home, only a few people have radios. For the rest, we were left with nothing to do but loiter in the villages.”
Another youth leader, Mpatso Paul, said for real behaviour change to happen in Mangochi, sexual reproductive health projects targeting young people should be developed with their input.
“We are only involved in projects as beneficiaries not partners,” said Mpatso, vice chairperson for Mangochi Youth Network, “That’s why there is so much failure in terms of results as young people lack enthusiasm to adopt ideas that are foreign to our context.”
According to the District Assembly, Mangochi has more than 180 NGOs and only 82 are registered to operate in the district. Only 10 out of the 182 organisations offer services related to sexual reproductive health.
Minister of Health, Hon Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, who was guest of honour during the interaction meeting, acknowledged the concerns by the youth saying the government will look into the issues and work with the district to address them.
“Ministry of Health is working with other line Ministries to advocate for ending early and child marriages as they have negative impact over maternal health issues sooner or later in life,” said Hon. Chiponda. “After our discussions, I feel confident that we have young people here in the district who are ready to change the situation. Your bravery is inspiring and as government, we will work with you so that you access relevant SRH services.”
UNFPA Resident representative, Young Hong concurred with the Minister saying: “The increase in the number of teen pregnancies is worrying. It’s creating an unending cycle of poverty for the young mother and for the child. Poor educational attainment, due to early teenage pregnancy and child marriage, limits their employment prospects’ and opportunities to make meaningful contribution to the fast evolving digital economy.” Written by Joseph Scott, UNFPA