I wish I were a social scientist, so that I would delve deep into this matter to unearth why this scandalous state of affairs exists in Namibia and the world over. What is causing these pre-mature pregnancies? Is it sexual promiscuity among our teenagers? Which males are impregnating these girls? Is it sugar daddies? Uncles? Teachers? Pastors? Politicians? Or male teenagers? We must unpack these questions in order to get to the root of the problem, and I am sure that we shall then be in a better position to generate some remedial actions.
In her publication titled “The ‘Causes’ of Teenage Pregnancy: Review of South African Research - Part 2”, Catriona Macleod states that the factors which contribute to teenage pregnancies in South Africa are: reproductive ignorance; the earlier occurrence of menarche; risk-taking behaviour; psychological problems; peer influence; coercive sexual relations; dysfunctional family patterns; poor health services; socio-economic status; the breakdown of cultural traditions; and the cultural value placed on children. I shall leave it to others to explain these factors in detail, because space and time in this column will not allow me to do so.
In general, experts argue that low self-esteem in teenagers is a major cause of teenage pregnancies, because children who do not get appropriate love and affection from their parents tend to look for it among their buddies who pressurise them to experiment with sex. It is a no-brainer that sex without contraceptives will lead to pregnancy, especially during that phase when the bodies of boys and girls start to secrete some liquids that are associated with grown-ups.
Not only should we show some tender loving care to our children, but we must also offer protective supervision until the kids are independent. There must be basic home rules so that the children will not end up spending most of their times at the malls watching movies and thereafter behave like grown-ups in dark basements. When parents do give permission for kids to hang out, they must make sure they know who the kids usually hang out with; know their friends and school mates, and other buddies from church or the soccer club and so forth. This is Parenting 101, and should not be misconstrued as the parental version of George Orwell’s 1984.
Down South, in the Gauteng province of South Africa, recent surveys showed that sugar daddies are among the major causes of teenage pregnancies. It turns out that children from poor families use sugar daddies as a ticket out of poverty, in order to have access to gadgets like cellphones and laptops, as well as school uniforms, in addition to free transport and pocket money for Brazilian hair. To remedy this, the education department in Gauteng is giving what are known as “dignity packs”, which contain toiletries and school uniforms for girls and boys. The kids from poor families are also exempted from paying school fees, and free school transport is offered to prevent girls from hitch-hiking (they usually receive lifts from older men!). These initiatives are intended to keep the girls from the clutches of sugar daddies.
In Namibia, it has recently been reported that teenage pregnancies are highest in the Kavango regions (West and East), followed by Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshikoto and Zambezi. Unfortunately, these statistics might create the unfortunate situation where discussions on teenage pregnancies take on tribal overtones, and this can be very dangerous. Suffice it to say that, as Namibians, we have a national teenage pregnancy problem that we must address with the urgency it deserves.
Let me digress a bit and look at the international scene. Surprisingly, the leading country in respect of teenage pregnancies is none other than the mighty United States of America (USA!). That’s right. The US of A annually records close to half a million births related to teenage pregnancies, almost ten times as many as the next highest country, Poland, which has just over thirty thousand births annually. Germany, Canada and France make up the remaining top five countries in teenage pregnancies. For a change, African countries are not in the top ten! Of course, that does not mean that we must ignore the problem, it just helps to know that we are not walking alone trying to keep our girls safe from prowling boys and men!
Movies are one of the biggest promoters of pre-marital sex. In particular, Hollywood movies make sex so sensual and attractive that boys and girls want to try it out for themselves. Those romantic candle-lit dinners with red roses against the background of the moon and stars, are sexually appetising indeed. One kiss unleashes the tiger within and one thing leads to another. Even for Madalas like me, who are supposed to know better, those scenes do get the blood to boil! So, you can imagine what this does to hot-blooded young people who want to taste THAT thing. This is the sweetest taboo that Sade croons about, and we all know it very well, don’t we?
Of course, I am only scratching the surface of this very critical topic, but that is exactly my point. Let us all have a conversation about those very topics that we are scared to discuss with our kids in the comfort of our homes. I remember one teenager who was bragging about his virility and fertility - he pointed to the girl he had impregnated, and roared with pride: “You see: one drop, nine months!”