WINDHOEK – The Education Sector Policy for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy Policy has once again come under the spotlight by drawing criticism from community members who feel the policy encourages teenagers to continue bearing children without being concerned.
Criticism of the policy emanated from consultative meetings being held by MPs from the Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs that are visiting the two regions of Omusati and Oshana.
The policy is premised on the Namibian Constitution, which states, “All persons shall have the right to education.” This is also in addition to other international legal obligations that prevent discrimination of the girl-child.
Under this policy, a girl may choose to continue with her education until four weeks before giving birth and she could continue with her schooling after giving birth provided the learner is in a good state of health and that the infant will be cared for by a responsible adult.
Communities in Ruacana Constituency in Omusati Region noted although the policy was drafted with good intentions, it has loopholes that continue to be exploited by leaners and in the process making the situation even worse.
“The policy on teenage pregnancy has many loopholes and is encouraging our learners to fall pregnant. This is so because they are allowed to continue to be in classes even when their pregnancy is visible and are allowed to return to school immediately after giving birth. To make things worse, an organisation called FAWENA provides them with financial support which entices others to follow suit,” complained a principal at one of the schools.
He called for a review of the policy noting that it is partly to blame for the high rate of teenage pregnancy in the regions and increases the risks of contracting HIV that leads to AIDS. Teenage pregnancy currently stands at 17 per cent with common cases of girls as young as 14-years-old falling pregnant.
Long serving senior medical officer at the Oshikuku District Hospital in the Etayi Constituency, Dr Samuel Awe further noted challenges such as malnutrition have increased due to young mothers who continuously leave their babies in the care of their grandmothers who may be unable to provide the necessary care. “Malnutrition has become a big problem because these young mothers dump their babies at their grandmothers. They should be compelled to take a break and breastfeed their babies for at least a year. They fail to do so because the leaner pregnancy policy allows them to return to school immediately. How do they even concentrate when they have left babies at home?” asked the doctor rhetorically.
In other regions visited by the committee last year, the policy was equally criticised over what is seen as its selective justice that apparently singles out only male teachers and not males from any other profession who impregnate learners as it calls for their dismissal for impregnating female learners.
Member of Parliament, Reinhold Nauyoma bemoaned the lack of consultation and involvement by members of the community during the formulation of policies as a reason for the current failure. He urged community members to air their views when policies are being formulated.
“Why we continue to fail with our policies is because we are too quiet. Policies are just being given to us until when things start to go wrong. There should be proper consultation in order for us to understand these policies,” he said.
Jennifer van den Heever, another parliamentarian in the committee revealed to community members that a motion on teenage pregnancy has been tabled in the National Assembly and would interrogate the policy.
“A motion on teenage pregnancy was tabled. Very soon Members of Parliament will hold consultations with community members and this policy is going to be reviewed and input from all stakeholders is needed,” she said.
Parliamentarians including, Ida Hoffman, Norah Munsu and Johanna Kandjimi are on a one-week visit of the two regions as part of their oversight function to identify challenges related to the provision of health, particularly issues of sexual reproductive health rights.
The two regions are grappling with high teenage pregnancies.
*George Sanzila works as a Chief Information Officer in the Division: Research, Information, Publications and Editorial Services at the National Assembly.