Mtwara. Teenage pregnancy is still on the rise despite government efforts to ensure that every child goes to school under the free education initiative. The government of the United Republic of Tanzania provides free education to every child from primary to secondary level.
Mtwara is among regions affected by pregnancies among school girls in the country. According to former Regional Education Officer, Sulum Masalanga, between 2015 and 2017, a total of 461 girls in primary and secondary schools dropped from school after conceiving. In Mtwara district alone, there were 49 girls, 11 from primary and 38 from secondary schools who got pregnant.
Among many factors, prevalence of video show stalls in Mtwara Region is cited as one of major causes of teenage pregnancies.
In recent years, such stalls have become common in many parts of the country, capitalising in live broadcasts of football matches. Because many people do not own television sets and majority of those who own one cannot afford to subscribe to channels beam football matches especially during the European leagues season , these stalls have become dependable to many people.
Nevertheless, while others go to these stalls to watch football matches and movies, other use them to prey on school girls.
Many of these stalls operate until late in the night leaving the children who go there without close parental watch or guidance.
Normally, during the night, if there is no live football match, these stalls are used to show phonograph movies. No one cares about the age of the revellers as long as they pay to watch the movies.
A girl who was impregnated and forced to drop out from school confided to Success that she met the boy who was responsible for the pregnancy at a video show stall.
The former Nalingu Primary School pupil aged 16 has since delivered. She says she started relations with the boy last year while she was only 15. “I was standard six then and our main meeting point was at the video show stall,” she confesses.
She notes that they used the opportunity to make love as their unsuspecting parents thought they were watching videos in the stall.
“We asked for permission to go and watch videos. But at the end I found myself pregnant and that was the end of my schooling,” she says.
But she claims innocence stressing that none among them thought that whet they were doing would result into pregnancy and cut short her dreams.
“After getting pregnant and kicked out of school the boy ran away. He was afraid that he might be jailed,” she says that she has never seen him since then.
The girl, who lives with her mother and brother, returned to school last September and asked if she could be readmitted so as to sit for standard seven exams but she was turned away because the government does not allow teen mothers back to school.
Another girl, *Happiness aged 16 was impregnated by a man who promised to give her Sh7000. The man met her at the local market where she was sent by her mother to buy some items.
“I am forced to go to the market because my mother is constantly sick. Besides this I am also forced to do some work to earn money for the family. That is why I was easily lured by a man who promised to give me Sh7000 for me to get intimate with him,” she recounts.
Because there is no one to leave her two months only child, Happiness says she is forced to carry the baby wherever she goes.
Hedaya Baraka, has completed primary education, she says most girls are tempted by material things and money. This according to her is because most parents cannot provide for their children.
“And usually it is not a lot of money. They are given peanuts but because to them that is too much, they find themselves trapped,” she says.
Talking about school girls pregnancies, a head teacher from Nalingu Primary School, Riziki Mwilombe, said poor upbringing was another major factor which fuels teen pregnancies. As a result of poor parental care, she says, many girls engage in premarital sex at a very tender age.
She noted for instance that many young girls are left to roam in the streets and even attend the video shows.
“Even the community does not fulfil its obligations. In the past, an adult would start to question a child whom he finds in a video stall at the middle of night. But I think because of globalization, this culture has died and no one cares about children if they are not his or hers,” she says adding... “No one cares about someone else’s child. We are too selfish and we don’t care about children of other people.”
Ms Mwilombe notes that in 2017 three pupils from her school, two from standard seven and one from standards six, dropped out due to early pregnancies.
She also blames the video show stalls as one major factor which contributes to school girls’ pregnancies.
Alawi Kaliasi, a resident of Nanguruwe village in Mtwara District says apart from the video stalls, poor parenting was also to blame for the problem facing school girls.
“According to what I have observed, many children roam the streets. Parents have stopped to take care of their children and the community is not helping as well,” he says.
In his suggestion, Mr Kaliasi says stiff regulations should be introduced to those who operate the video show stalls or else such stalls should be outlawed altogether.
Nassoro Issa run a video show stall and he defends the business noting that their business does not target students and pupils.
“This is business like any other business. We do not encourage children to come here. It is upon the parents to ensure that their children are kept safe away from areas where they might be tempted,” he says. He notes that according to the law children aged under 18 are not supposed to frequent such areas and they have been observing that.
“If a child tell her parent that she is coming to watch movie but go elsewhere that is not my problem. Parents should make sure that they keep close watch over their children,” he insists.
Mtwara District Commissioner Evod Mmanda, has already issued a notice barring schooling and other children from visiting video show stalls. He has directed local leaders to ensure that children do not set foot in such establishments.
Speaking during the education stakeholders meeting in the district, Mr Mmanda also ordered that each parent or guardian should closely follow development of child under his or her care. He said parents and guardians are obliged to teach their children discipline and good manners.
“Everyone should fulfil his or her responsibilities. A parent or guardian should make sure that his child is always at right place. If we find a child watching movies in these stalls or playing pool we will start with the parent,” he said.
On school girls pregnancies, Mr Mmanda said the government will take legal measures against all men who impregnate school girls. He warned that parents who collude with men who impregnate their children, will also be prosecuted.
Assistant Village Executive Officer at Nalingu, Amosi Byabato, says they have started to implement the District Commissioner directives and they were now closely supervising operations of the video stalls.
“We have enacted bylaws under which such stalls are not allowed to operate during working hours. The operators are also not allowed to permit children into the establishment,” he says.
For his part, Mtwara Regional Commissioner, Mr Gelasius Byakanwa, says wide ranging measures should be taken to address the teen pregnancies problem in the region. But, he says, the most important thing is cooperation from all people starting from the community level.
Mr Byakanwa says notes that there is no single entity which can solve that problem single handed.
“It is the community which should spearhead this war. If members of the community decides, we can easily overcome this problem. For instance, if people will be ready to testify against those who impregnate school girls, we will easily prevail over them and men will be scared to approach school girls,” he says.
In a bid to find a lasting solution to the problem, the Regional Commissioner says they have commissioned a research to establish environments under which the girls are lured by men.
“We know that the problem is pronounced in Tandahimba and Masasi districts. In one of these district number of impregnated girls ranges between 80 and 90. It is better to get data periodically. We should know how many girls went on leave and their conditions when they return for school next term. *Not real name
“But the problem also lies with our girls. Let me appeal to them they should not engage in these activities until they finish their studies. If others have tolerated, they can also do the same,” he said.