WINDHOEK – Eighteen-year-old *Ndapewa Shilongo (not her real name) is a teen mom who did not return to school after giving birth to her son last year. Shortly after realising she was expecting in 2017 at the tender age of 16 with her first baby, Shilongo dropped out of school in Grade 7.
Shilongo, who lives in Havana informal settlement with her mother and younger brother, left school because her peers teased her when they started noticing she was expecting.
And in the broader community she endured stigma and criticism for falling pregnant at such a young age.
Havana is a poverty-stricken informal settlement on the outskirts of Windhoek; houses are made of corrugated-iron sheets. Most houses don’t have electricity and residents get water from communal taps. Shilongo walked about two hours to get to school.
Dropping out of school is a major negative outcome for teenage mothers although re-entry policies are in place. This is according to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) situational analysis on EUP in Eastern and Southern Africa (2018).
This is because parents and communities are not aware of these policies and heads of schools may either apply their own guidelines developed at school level, and or use their personal discretion, authority and values to prevent re-entry. Even if the re-entry is an option, girls are still vulnerable to drop out since the school environment is often hostile and unsupportive.
Shilongo desires to go back to school but the push is more on her side than her mother. This is because her mother believes Shilongo won’t excel in school after giving birth. Despite this, Shilongo shared that her mother was willing to look after the baby when she decided to go back to school.
Shilongo told the reporter her birth certificate is lost and she is unable to apply for school. She also needs a recommendation letter from her former school for transfer. She fears being discriminated against and ridiculed if she returns to the same school.
Her baby does not have any birth certificate. As a teen mother, she relies on her mother who sells pieces of roasted meat and empty bottles to take care of the family – including Shilongo, her baby, younger brother and extend family in the north.
She said her baby’s father who is a final year student has stopped supporting the baby.
At her age, Shilongo is supposed to be in Grade 12 (matric) and that is if she didn’t fail any grade. But when Shilongo moved from the north to Windhoek to be with her mother she was placed in Grade 3, a grade behind she was supposed to be.
Although she is home now, looking after her son, she dreams of being a lecturer one day.
“I want to go back to school. From my family there aren’t really educated people. There is only one person with a decent job – a teacher,” she said, adding that she does not feel good when she sees her peers going to school while she remains at home to look after her child.
In addition, while discussing the issue of contraceptives, Shilongo appeared to have little knowledge about it. She is not on any contraceptive now. After birth, she said, the nurses informed her about the need to be on contraceptives but she never followed the advice.
While she was in school, Shilongo said, the life skills teacher was hardly present at school and she ended up only receiving a few lessons on the subject.
According to the situational analysis on Early and Unintended Pregnancy (EUP) in Eastern and Southern Africa – nearly two out of ten Namibian girls aged between 15 to 19 years have a child or are expecting their first child.
EUP is a huge challenge for Namibia with a pregnancy and childbearing prevalence of 19 percent among girls in this age group, according to Namibia Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2013 and the UNESCO situational analysis on EUP in Eastern and Southern Africa, which adds that 40 percent of pregnancies in this age group were a result of non-consensual sex.
The report states that teenage pregnancy is more than three times higher among young women in the lowest wealth quintile than those in the highest. Teen pregnancy is more pervasive in the Kavango, Kunene and Omaheke regions which accounted for more than one-third of teenage pregnancies reported during the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2013. Out of 19% girls who have a child or are pregnant, 70% of these pregnancies are unintended.
According to the report, EUP is a global public health concern. It is extremely prevalent in sub-Saharan African and is driven by multiple factors including poverty, lack of information and access to reproductive health services, cultural norms, peer pressure and sexual coercion and abuse.
Among other negative consequences for adolescent girls, including for their health, social and economic outcomes, EUP jeopardises educational attainment due to school dropout and decreased school completion.
Speaking at the capacity building training for the media recently in Johannesburg, UNESCO regional director for Southern Africa Prof Hubert Gijzen said EUP implications are huge, as girls drop out of school. “Once they drop out it is very hard to get back to school. Less than 5% of girls who drop out because of EUP reasons, come back to school,” said Gijzen, adding that those who do not come back face socio-economic hardships.
Percentages of young women aged 15-19 who had been pregnant or had a child was high in all Eastern and Southern African countries (Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe).
On the magnitude and determinants of EUP, the reports states that teenagers lack information about sexuality because, although CSE is part of life skills, delivery may not be optimal.
In addition, parents are unable to educate their children about sexuality because they lack resources, are unsure of what to say or because they feel uncomfortable discussing it with them. Schools and peers are therefore considered to be the main sources of information about sexuality for teenagers; many teenagers perceive their peers to be more approachable, and information sharing about sexuality may also be more spontaneous.
“However, this strong peer influence may compromise a teenager’s knowledge of sexuality and therefore their decision regarding sexual behavior,” it stated.
During the UNESCO and UNFPA launch of the regional EUP campaign in Johannesburg recently, Namibian Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture official Ayesha Wentworth said Namibia starts teaching CSE already at Grade 1 level around issues of good and bad touch and these are all part of the processes around relationships. Wentworth said it becomes formalised in Grade 4 curriculum where life skills is a compulsory subject and all learners have to take it. The subjects go up to Grade 12.
“In the Namibian context, the CSE is in line with international standard and we believe we are teaching them at the right time and the content is in line with what is expected of CSE curriculum. However, I think the people who are teaching the curriculum are the problem … some of our life skills teachers are not equipped to deal with the topic and are not comfortable to talk about the topic so the message is not transmitted in a proper way and internalisation is where is the problem comes in,” stated Wentworth.
She added that the community and particularly parents have to be involved so that whatever is taught in schools is reinforced at home.
She said that as country “we need to start tackling cultural values and religious beliefs” and it is something Namibia is working on. They are having dialogues with parents and religious leaders.
“We are moving in the right direction to teach all relevant people about CSE,” stated Wentworth.