Eliud Mwaamenange & Celine Somses
Young people in Namibia are mostly ignored from home, community, school to the state. This is proven by the fact that problems involving young people are not taken seriously. It is either that ineffective measures are taken to apparently address such problems, or young people are blamed for not being responsible, which is not always the case. This then takes us to learner pregnancies, which is the biggest concern in Namibia. We hold the view that parents and the ministry of education are the ones to be blamed.
Charity begins at home, so sex should be one of the charities that parents should discuss openly with their children. Most parents view sex as a taboo, and regard their 13-18-year-old children as too young to have a conversation with regarding sex. However, national health statistics indicate that about half of the girls aged 15-19 are sexually active, as well as about two-thirds of the boys in that age group; while 6% of girls and 12% of boys say they have had sex before age 15. In addition to that, learners are taught Natural Science as from grade 4 at school.
That means at the ages of 10-13, school-going children are familiar with sexual organs and co, albeit to a lesser extent. Therefore, we are informing parents that if they are not talking to their kids regarding sex, the school is doing so, and their peers also. Growing up, we listened to a lot of myths about where babies came from. Parents would lie and say they were thrown from heaven or aeroplanes. The sad truth is that lying to them is taking their rights away from knowing the truth.
This alone proves that parents need to open up with their children, and have a conversation about sex. We are not suggesting that they must tell them to go have sex, but rather to focus on the dos and don’ts when it comes to sex because young people need guidance on matters of sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health. This must start at home.
This would deter them from blindly experimenting with sex, as some experiments would backfire on them. Talking about sex to your children is a great privilege, while not discussing sex with them is a punishment.
Parents’ weaknesses in managing learner pregnancies was further exposed during the 2020 lockdown as the ministry of education says 3 323 schoolgirls fell pregnant during the March-July 2020 Covid-19 lockdown. This is the period in which learners were in the hands of their own parents and guardians. Parents must understand their strategies of controlling mostly the girl-child by limiting their access to cellphones, if not allowing them to use a cell phone at all; threatening to beat them up if they catch them with boys; threatening to kick them out of their houses if they fall pregnant; to only go out if permitted, and locking the house at night is not enough in managing learner and teenage pregnancies.
These strategies are indeed proven to be not working successfully. Learners see their parents as models, so it is easy for learners to learn from their parents rather than from teachers. Parents are the first teachers to their children, and should be a lifelong teacher to them. Learners trust their parents more compared to teachers, so discussing sex and the prevention of pregnancies with them will create a stronger bond of trust between the children and their parents.
Do parents know that a girl-child can leave home to go to school, but won’t reach school, but rather go see a boyfriend? Do parents know that a group of three girls who are friends can pretend going to Sunday school or sports activities, but they won’t reach there but rather go see their people? Do parents know that sex between family members is possible, especially cousins, as they say cousin is just a word? Parents must, therefore, understand education regarding safe sex which must start at home is needed to ensure that young people understand the importance of having safe sex. Parents may also consider making contraceptives available for their children until they are big enough to make sexual decisions.
The education ministry
Cabinet approved “temporary guidelines” on teenage pregnancy in 1999. In 2001, the Ministry of Basic Education published a summary of the policy approved by Cabinet in a circular entitled “Implementation of the Policy on Pregnancy amongst Learners” (Formal Education Circular 5/2001).
The Education Sector Policy for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy was then implemented. This policy indeed acknowledges the fact that learner pregnancy is a big problem and needs to be addressed. It states that “In 2007, there were 1 465 pregnancy-related drop-outs in Namibia”. It equally revealed that “A 2006 UNICEF survey of 265 girls aged 15-24 in the Kavango, Omaheke and Ohangwena regions found that 19% of them had already been pregnant – with a shocking 40% of these pregnancies resulting from forced sex. A further need for a revised policy is indicated by evidence that illegal abortions, baby dumping and infanticide are options currently utilised by learner-mothers to prevent motherhood from interfering with their education”. The ministry then intervened with this said policy.
The goals of the Education Sector Policy for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy are among others to increase learner education about sexual responsibility and sexual health to help prevent learner pregnancies and promote shared responsibility for the pregnant learners, expectant fathers and learner-parents between themselves, the extended family, the school and other line ministries. The question is whether the above indicated measures are really effective and helpful.
The learner pregnancy prevention policy has five key pillars. The first pillar is the provision of information on sexual and reproductive health. The second pillar is the promotion of life skills programmes. The policy states that life skills periods must be included in the school timetable and taught by trained life skills teachers.
However, it is a fact that Life Skills is not taken seriously in school. In fact, the mathematics and biology teachers are given these periods to teach their subjects, and sometimes Life Skills is given to teachers who did not major in the subject, and therefore use Life Skills lessons for their promotional subjects.
The third pillar is gender-specific support and mentoring for learners.
The policy requires school principals to designate one or more female teachers to act as mentors for female learners, and one or more male teachers to act as mentors for male learners. The fourth pillar is family and community involvement.
Teachers are required to adopt strategies to encourage the involvement of families and community members in prevention programmes. As a teacher, how convenient is it to teach something that you do not practise or encourage in your own home? We wonder if the school and parents really engage to address learner pregnancy. If yes, why do those interventions seem to be helpless? The only solution left is having open discussions about sex and pregnancy, starting at home, and practically being enforced in schools.
We are, therefore, submitting to parents and the ministry of education through schools to review the effectiveness of measures in place to prevent learner pregnancies.