History is and continues to be our escort-without it, we are blind.Hence, the past makes the present coherent and the past will remain horrible for as long as we fail to assess it fairly .Our failures or successes are as a result of how we react to our history . My name is Yunah Bvumbwe , i’m a Zimbabwean youth who strongly believe in Comprehensive Sex Education ( CSE) and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) of adolescents and youths because it’s absence creates a hub for all the problems that young people will encounter in their future . I also believe that the empowerment of young people should be holistic as this is the only panacea in rescuing them from facing a bleak future .
I stay in darwendale, a farming community which is a few kilometers away from Harare .
Darwendale is one of the marginalized areas in Zimbabwe that have little or no cooperation with the outside world , everything is dull, roads are filled with dust and faces heavily stricken with hopelessness are the ones you meet up with everyday, usually there is a somber atmosphere, it’s a devastating experience to be residing amongst young people who have no dreams, who are hopeless and live their lives anyhow .
The majority of young people in my community are not educated, they have either dropped off school at grade 2 which is the second grade in junior school after elementary or pre-school because of poverty . Most of them are girls who unfortunately celebrate their 15th birthday while pregnant or they are already married .
This practice is very normal besides the fact that in Zimbabwe it’s now illegal to marry off girls under the age of 18 years. This is mainly because very few young people understand the constitution and the domestic laws in general , whether they affect or benefit them it’s not their priority either.
It’s also worrisome that by the time they reach the age of 24 , a lot of girls have either three or four children, who in most cases are malnourished and have no proper clothing and also lack comprehensive health care . This situation is heartbreaking and a cause for concern, the mother is uneducated, unemployed and worse off a dependent in an economic situation that has made hope an ‘expensive jewel’ , hope is a rare product to think of now , as an aftermath, she cannot afford to look after children properly or send them to school, they also struggle to give them proper shelter and clothing.
The teenage mother uses old- tattered nappies or worn out pieces of clothes that are at times washed without soap instead of disposable diapers that are safe due to poverty.
The statistics from a local survey conducted, highlights that children whose mothers were married at a younger age, have very limited education opportunities as the mothers themselves don’t see the essence of educating their children. This situation thus further perpetuates the cycle of poverty within the family.
Furthermore, although Section (81)(1)(e) of the Zimbabwean constitution states that ” every child, that is to say every boy and girl under the age of eighteen years has the right to be protected from economic and sexual exploitation, from child labor and from maltreatment, neglect or any form of abuse ” it’s unfortunate that because of poverty and the current economic situation in Zimbabwe, children are dropping from school than ever, they have joined the fast growing profession of vending. For example in Harare these young people have mastered skills of dodging municipal police in a’cat and mouse’ affair between the vendors and the municipal police where the former are trying to earn a living and the latter is chasing them off in a bid to make the city clean and return the status of Harare as the ‘sunshine city’ ,
In my community because it’s surrounded by farms , children who drop out of school because their parents couldn’t afford their fees are working as child laborers in farms where they spend long hours working only to get as low as US$3 , a move which will also push them back to continue working as the money is too little to accomplish anything. The situation is the same also for those young people who resides in marginalized areas surrounded by mines as they also offer cheap labor there whilst others have ventured into illegal gold panning. All these are avenues for survival for these young people who face a double tragedy of missing out on many education opportunities and are being forced into child labor due to poverty.
Furthermore, of great concern is also that the rate of survival for children delivered by adolescent mothers especially those in marginalized communities are very slim.
Most of them die during or after birth, the young mothers at times develop health problems because their reproductive bodies have not yet matured to be able to sustain the baby for nine months and being able to deliver normally. The situation is further worsened by the fact that the young mothers cannot visit the health care centers more often because of the long distances they had to travel to receive treatment .
Complications that might occur after giving birth include the tearing of the bladder which leads to fistula,it’s worrying to note that fistula haunts most of these young mothers for the rest of their lives.
Fistula in Africa is still considered a taboo and punishment for infidelity, because it’s a silent disease, victims end up in isolation not being able to live normally again.
At times community health care officers will have to help the young mothers deliver at home, this is scarring taking into consideration that the mother may face complications during delivering that may lead to both the death of the child and the mother and also that the health care officers will not have proper clothing meant to equip them for the midwifery task.
These midwives also risk their lives to contracting HIV and AIDS as they will not be in a better position to know the status of their patient.
These scenarios are a simple illustration of how paying a blind eye to Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) is greatly affecting the future of young people especially girls who are more vulnerable compared to their male counterparts.
As a young person who had grown up witnessing these situations, I realised that there was really a dire need to educate young people in schools about CSE and HIV and AIDS . It was not a surprise to me that a lot of these young people have never heard about the terms,There hasn’t been anyone to stand on the gap and educate them about it . That is heartbreaking considering that from the statistics that the Zimbabwe National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan ZNASP(111) 2015-2018 and the national AIDS coordinating body in Zimbabwe -(NAC) that is committed towards Fast tracking 90.90.90 target by 2020 and ending AIDS by 2030 , states that 14,800 girls between the ages of 15-24 are newly infected with HIV each year . This clearly indicates that the number one cause of death in adolescents and youths is HIV and AIDS and also that adolescent girls are usually vulnerable to teenage pregnancies due to little or no Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) and lack of knowledge on the use of contraceptives.
Currently i’m working with two schools, one is a primary and the other one is a secondary school. The essence of this is to try and help young people delay early sexual debuts and empower them with vast knowledge about their Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) and HIV and AIDS . Girls tend to shy away and want to dodge the lessons compared to boys who are displaying great interest in sexuality education. I think it’s because of how the society has socialized young people notably girls not to talk openly about sex related issues .
It’s also absurd to note that Patriarchal societies like Zimbabwe has socialized girls not to be more competitive by emphasizing much on gender roles,this practice is still rife in marginalized communities.
Strides have however been made in other parts of the country for example in Harare where young people both boys and girls starting at primary level are undertaking different projects and are actively participating in campaigns to empower and enlighten them, it will be a great move to do the same for those young people in marginalized communities so that they will be on the same page with other young people who are being enlightened already.
In marginalized communities, school attendance for boys is higher compared to that of girls on a daily basis, one of the causes is that when girls are on their menstrual periods they can’t afford to purchase sanitary wear,they rather use cow dung, leaves or small pieces of clothes,all these methods are not hygienic and they make girls shy and uncomfortable to attend school and because its the biological nature of girls to experience menstruation every month , something needs to be done so that girls will enjoy their menstruation and not miss out on school .
Girls also are not willing to actively participate because of the internalization of societal beliefs that always barricades their full academic development and force them into early marriage . I strongly feel they need to be encouraged to be more competitive because that’s the only way that can enable more girls to be groomed into a powerful force that isn’t scared of taking up challenges and compete for challenging sectors such as politics and help shape the future they want .As it stands right now, the higher you go, the few young people you will find there, the momentum is still very low.
Moreover, Cultural beliefs that give boys an added advantage need to be abolished and if the full humanity of girls is not part of our culture, we really need to make it part of our culture, after all, culture is not a static phenomenon, it moves with time , so should humanity.
I don’t really think that it makes sense to allow culture to stripe off our humanity from us, culture doesn’t make us, we rather make culture and also choose to either make it rigid or relax it.
If tradition and culture is not favourable to young people especially girls , we really need to stand firm, fight and reject it. That is how our present as young people can be made coherent, history has already told us that culture that neglects and subjugate young people, both boys and girls is barbaric so it ought to be changed and I strongly believe that hope still stands for us and change is also still possible.