Kongwa. Sikitu Ngoma*, a teenage village girl at Mtanana- B in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, is very lucky.
She managed to finish her secondary education even though she was pregnant. She was only 17-years-old when she got pregnant few months before sitting for her Form Four National Exams at Mtanana Secondary School in 2017.
Out of ignorance, she didn’t know that she had already conceived. She says she was ignorant of sexual reproductive health education to the extent that an older man took advantage of her poverty and ignorance to seduce and get her involved into early sexual relationship.
Raised by her grandmother together with other six grandchildren, Sikitu says her parents were separated and her mother had no choice other than to leave her at the guardianship of grandmother when she was a little girl.
Life was difficult for Sikitu as she grew up.
“My grandmother could not support my education any longer. I could see she was struggling to take care of us,” says Sikitu as she breastfeeds her one and a half year baby boy.
Sikitu’s story is similar to that of her fellow villager, 18-years-old Maria Liziwe*, who is also a victim of early pregnancy.
Unlike Sikitu, whose pregnancy was not noticed when she sat for her form four exams, Maria didn’t proceed with secondary education. She got pregnant the following year after she finished her primary education in 2016.
Like, Sikitu, Maria too lives with a lot of regrets that she always wishes she could turn the clock back.
The two cases are not new in Kongwa District and in many areas across the country, where incidences of teenage pregnancy do occur frequently at homes and schools. Most of adolescent girls have found their dream shut down completely by becoming young mothers. Being mothers at a tender age deprive them of rights to education as they are not allowed to continue with school after delivery.
Due to engagement into risk sexual behaviours, most adolescent schoolgirls are vulnerable to early pregnancy. However, teenage pregnancy is the direct consequence of frequent sexual intercourse.
According to the Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey and Malaria Indicator Survey 2015-2016, Twelve per cent of young women and 13 per cent of young men age 15-24 had sex before they were 15. About 60 per cent of women and 51 percent of men aged 18-24 reported having had sex before reaching age 18.
Despite some disparities on statistics from authorities in Kongwa District on the reported cases of school dropout due to early pregnancy, the general picture portrays the magnitude of the problem.
Data gathered by Kongwa District Hospital show that 215 girl students were found to be pregnant between 2017 and 2019.
Kongwa District Medical Officer, Dr Thomas Samuel, says data collected from health facilities across the district show that 74 and 68 girl students were found to be pregnant in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Until June this year, 73 girl students were found to be pregnant.
“The most affected areas according to our statistics are Sagara, Duo, Pandambili, Lenjuru, Mkoka, and Chitego,” says Dr. Thomas.
However, according to the Kongwa District Education Officer responsible for secondary education, Honorata Kabunduguru, early pregnancy, which is the direct consequence of engagement in un protected sexual behaviours, has cut short the dream of 136 girl students in three years.
Gathered statistics from reported cases in schools which were made available by the district education authorities show that 37, 52 and 47 girl students dropped out of school in 2017, 2018, 2019 respectively due to pregnancy,” she said.
The data shows that secondary schools with the leading number of pregnancy cases in three years from 2017-2019 are Makawa (14), Laikala (11), Ngomai (11), Kibaigwa (10) and Mnyakongo (9).
At Makawa Secondary School seven girl students were found to be pregnant and were expelled from school in 2017 while the same number were expelled from each Ngomai and Laikala secondary schools in 2018 for the same reasons.
The data shows that the percentage of dropout in secondary schools in the district due to pregnancy in 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 was 1.8 per cent, 6.6 percent, 2.6 percent and 9 per cent respectively. The District Education Officer feels that the problem has to some extent been reduced.
According to various teachers, Form Two, Form Three and Form Four students aged between 14 and 17 years constitute large number of dropout due to pregnancy.
Gabriel Mgohachi, a head teacher at Kongwa Primary School, says though there were no reported cases of dropout at his school due to early pregnancy for the past three years, the problem still exists in some parts of the district.
Mariam Fonga, the assistant head teacher at Kongwa Primary School says secondary school students are the most victims of early pregnancy than primary school pupils. At Kongwa Secondary School, the situation is a bit different from Kongwa Primary School.
The headmaster at Kongwa Secondary School, Alex Salum, says three students dropped out last year due to pregnancy. “This year, only one girl was found pregnant and she was expelled from school,” explains Alex.
At Mnyakonga Secondary School in Kongwa District, five girls had to drop out of school due to pregnancy this year. “One was a form four student, three in form two and one in form one,” says headmaster, Mpokeeni Sanga.
“From 2017 to 2019, nine students dropped out of school due to early pregnancy. Most victims are between 14 and 17 years of age,” explains Mpokeeni.
“The bad thing is that those who got pregnant were the ones with good performance in classes,” the headmaster says.
Dickson Jigwa, Mumi Secondary School Headmaster, says four girls at his school dropped out this year while two girls dropped out last year because of pregnancy.
Dickson blames long home-to-school distance as among reasons for the persistence of the problem, saying building of hostels in secondary schools would to the great extent help in reducing schoolgirl pregnancy rate.
“Students have to walk six to seven kilometres a day to go to school and back home. It would be very easy for an adolescent girl be tempted to accept free rides from bodaboda, who advantage of them,” explains Dickson.
Kongwa District Education Officer responsible for secondary education Honorata Kabunduguru says early pregnancy has adversely affected many teenage school girls.
“Decline to the school performance, it leads to poverty due to lack of education hence failure to reach the intended goals and drop in education expectancy in general, particularly for girls and women are some of the effects,” she explains.
According to Kongwa district medical officer, Dr Thomas Samuel, teenage girls may experience complications associated with pregnancy before and during delivery due to their physical body immaturity.
“Apart from health risk and psychological problems a girl student would experience after she conceived, such risk sexual behaviour among school girls exposes them to the risk of contracting sexual transmitted diseases,” he explains. As soon as they conceive and become teenage mother after nine months, a great part of their whole life dream is shuttered. Sikitu’s ambition was to become a nurse. However, early pregnancy has shut her dream forever.