Poverty stalks adolescent mothers
Mutoko — Precious Gwaze (16) joyfully breastfeeds her nine-month-old baby boy, whom she named Anotidaishe, meaning God loves us.
By Sofia Mapuranga
The chubby baby briefly stops suckling and chuckles before smiling back at his mother as the two enjoy their mother-child moment.
For a while, Gwaze is oblivious of her surroundings, until she is jolted back to reality by a question on what it is that she regrets the most in her life.
The teenager says if she could turn back the hands of time, she would choose a different path.
“I am still a teenager who still wants to play games with my peers. Sometimes I wish I did not have such a huge responsibility of being a mother,” she said.
“Poverty drove me into this marriage. Now I realise that the minute one becomes a mother, it is a lifetime responsibility which you cannot shift to anyone,” she says.
Blinking back tears, Gwaze says she has seen some of her colleagues making it at school despite their very difficult circumstances.
“It was a very rush decision I made. I should have soldiered on,” she says.
Hailing from Mashonaland East, Gwaze was a Form Two student at Chatiza Secondary School in Mutoko when she eloped to her 20-year-old husband who is a gold-panner.
The first in a family of five, she said her grandmother was finding it difficult to pay for her education and she was forced to stop going to school.
She believes that because she had stopped going to school, her immediate choice became that of getting married because she believed her life would change for the better. However, things turned out differently.
“It is no use crying over spilt milk,” she said, trying to comfort herself.
“My husband’s income is not enough and I have since joined him as a vendor at the gold panning sites,” she said, adding that vending was affecting her physically and emotionally.
“Balancing motherhood and vending is emotionally and physically draining,” she said.
Gwaze is one of the many young girls who were forced into an early marriage by poverty.
Another victim of early child marriages, Emerie Tahubvunga (24) was barely 15 when she got married. she is now a mother of six.
Also coming from Makaha in Mudzi district, Tahubvunga told The Standard that as a young woman, her marriage was not out of choice. She said she was pushed into the marriage by poverty.
“I eloped to become a third wife after my late husband convinced me that he would take care of me and my family.
“The marriage was not rosy because polygamy has its own challenges. My husband died after he had four children with me,” she said, further explaining how she ended up with two more children.
She said: “My late husband’s relatives wanted me to remarry one of my husband’s brothers as a fifth wife and I refused.”
She was then chased from the homestead and her life was never the same.
“I then met my second husband who promised to take care of me and the four children from my previous marriage and I gave him another son before he also told me that he could not cope with the demands of such a big family,” said Tahubvunga.
She said her second husband wanted her to take her children back to their father’s relatives, which forced her to leave him.
Out of desperation, she then married another man who fathered her sixth son in a marriage that hardly lasted a year.
“That was the only time I experienced marital bliss. He was a bus conductor but he died in an accident,” she said.
“I was a child when I married my first husband and looking back, I should have waited,” she said, urging other young girls to value themselves and make the right choices despite their circumstances.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency (ZimStat) 2015 Demographic and Health Survey, early child bearing among teenagers is almost three times higher in rural areas compared to urban settings.
Findings by ZimStat revealed that 22% of adolescent females aged 15-19 in Zimbabwe have had children, with one in six teenagers (17%) having given birth and another 5% being pregnant with their first child.
Government is aiming at eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, as stipulated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In its post 2015 SDGs agenda, government said it was aiming at ensuring that it reduced by half the number of people living on less than $1,25 a day.
However, due to the increasing poverty levels in the country, exacerbated by the El Niño-induced drought, it remains to be seen whether this will come to reality.
Poverty Reduction Forum Trust director Judith Kaulem said because poverty bore a female face, it was important to consider targeting women and girls in poverty alleviation interventions.
Real Open Opportunities for Transformation Support (Roots) director, Beatrice Savadye said besides the complications they faced before, during and after delivery, teenage mothers were more likely to drop out of school, a factor which reduced their social, economic and political opportunities.
“Young mothers may not be sufficiently mature for childbearing and rearing,” she said.
“Having children at an early age reduces a woman’s educational and employment opportunities, factors which greatly reduce the prospects of getting jobs on equal footing with their male counterparts.”
The 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) report established that while adolescent fertility rates remained high among rural girls, at 27% against 10% among urban girls, it varied according to wealth, geographic location and education status.
Savadye said it was critical for Zimbabwe to acknowledge the relationship between wealth, poverty and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“Findings by the ZDHS confirms it. The proportion of teenagers who start childbearing decreases as wealth increases, unlike those from poverty-stricken families. These are the dynamics of poverty,” said Savadye.
Sally Dura, the national coordinator for the Women’s Coalition emphasised the importance of empowering women and girls as a strategy to ending poverty in all its forms.
“Women and girls are an important link in economic prosperity. It is sad to note that the majority of our women and girls still fail to access resources and this marginalises them socially, economically and politically,” said Dura.
Experts who gathered in Harare at the 3rd Capacity Development Forum agreed that there was need for a more coordinated and strategic approach to developing capacity if Africa was to achieve the ambitious goals as defined by the SDGs Agenda 2063.
“To achieve economic, political and social transformation, we will need critical skills and a change of mindsets” said Emmanuel Nnadozie, executive secretary of the Africa Capacity Development Foundation.