To eradicate an upsurge in teenage pregnancies in the two Kavango regions poverty must first be addressed, says the Kavango East Governor Dr Samuel Mbambo.
The two regions have a teenage pregnancy rate of 34 per cent, the highest for the 14 regions of the country for the past six years. The national prevalence rate for teenage pregnancies stands at 17 per cent.
Several hundred girls drop out of school in the two regions each year because of pregnancy.
The two regions also have the highest poverty level. More than 50 per cent of the population are classified as poor.
Speaking to New Era on Friday, Mbambo said teenage pregnancy is a symptom of a bigger problem – poverty.
“You cannot address teenage pregnancy by not removing the bigger problem, which is poverty. It will still take some time even if we start now. If we take the issue of poverty – it is sometimes caused by the absence of breadwinners who would bring food into the household,” he said.
Mbambo said most households in the two regions are also severely affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, with the result that many girls as young as 12 to 13 years old are now being forced to look after their siblings.
“In most cases these young girls are vulnerable and men start preying on them. Since they are vulnerable and they cannot demand condoms they become victims of teenage pregnancy. Many of them go out at night and exchange their bodies to bring something to the table. It is important to keep this in mind,” he noted.
Last year, he said, they had a conference in Mukwe where stakeholders were invited to discuss the way forward in addressing the issue of teenage pregnancy.
“We are busy addressing the issue but if you say to a person who is hungry ‘be blessed and go in peace’ without giving them bread then you did not solve the problem. So we can talk, we can have meetings and conferences, but if they are still hungry and poor, then they will still go and find ways to survive. It is something deeper than just talking,” Mbambo said.
He was however hopeful that the crisis would be collectively addressed as President Hage Geingob has put mechanisms in place such as the newly-established Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, he said.
According to the 2013 Namibia Labour Force Survey, unemployment of females in the Kavango regions is at 35.3 per cent.
Talk has it that both regions are also very susceptible to teenage marriages, and schoolchildren wander around shebeens and nightclubs at night, teenagers are exposed to pornography, girls have sexual relationships with teachers for high marks, sexual intercourse takes place between learners, and girls have sexual relationships with sugar daddies in exchange for cash and cellphones.