With increasing numbers since COVID-19’s onslaught, Zimbabwe is trying to fight its girl and teenage pregnancy crisis, according to the Associated Press.
While other countries in southern Africa have reported increased pregnancies in girls and teenagers throughout the pandemic as well, the outlet claims Zimbabwe’s stats build upon the country’s long struggle against child marriages and young women becoming pregnant.
“Before COVID-19 hit, one of every three girls in the country was wed before age 18, many with unplanned pregnancies, because of lax enforcement of laws, widespread poverty, and cultural and religious practices,” the AP reported.
The rise in girl and teen pregnancies is also linked to school closings following the pandemic’s onslaught in 2020. Many of Zimbabwe’s young women were left vulnerable throughout this time as they were also left with little to no access to contraception and clinics. Sources shared that “many girls became victims of sexual abuse or looked to marriage and pregnancy as a way out of poverty,” which worsened during the pandemic as well.
Some girl and teen mothers are unable to return to school because they need to work, contribute to their households and care for their children as well as often their siblings. Others resist returning due to the societal shame they or their families may face. Travel restrictions stopped others from even getting to school.
While the country does record the number of young women who get pregnant and drop out of school, officials estimate that the statisitcs are underreported.
“I am not afraid of going back to school once my child is older,” 13-year-old mother of one Virginia Mavhunga told the AP. “They may laugh at me now, but I am dedicating all my spare time and weekends to reading and catching up.”
“This is not the end of the road, just a forced break,” she added.
Read the AP’s full report here.