Rivaldo Kavanga, Chairperson of the Health Committee of the Children’s Parliament, Namibia.
He also moderated the intergenerational dialogue on unintended pregnancies in Namibia during the launch of the 2022 State of World Population report on World Population Day, 11 July 2022 in Rundu, Kavango East Region. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Poverty has forced some parents to encourage their teenage daughters to bear children, in order for the family to benefit from the government grant for teenage mothers.
While the spectacle of children under the age of 16 falling pregnant has become common, Namibian law classifies it as rape.
Namibia also continues to face an ample number of challenges, while mitigating the teenage pregnancy crisis.
Efforts by the government and civil society organisations (CSOs) are commendable, but more needs to be done.
During an intergenerational panel discussion at the national launch of the United Nations Population Fund flagship 2022 State of World Population Report at Rundu, the deputy director of the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture in the Kavango East region revealed that poverty has pushed parents to prompt their teenage daughters to have babies, so that they can become beneficiaries of the teenage mothers' grant. Teenage pregnancies are exacerbated by school-going girls who are forced, by poverty, to have transactional sex to meet their basic needs.
For many adolescent girls, constituting the 1,6 million Namibians marginalised by poverty, teenage pregnancies are inevitable.
According to the 2022 State of the World Report, globally higher levels of social and economic development, as measured by gross national income and human development index data, were strongly correlated with lower incidences of unintended pregnancies, showing a compelling indication that poverty directly affects teenage pregnancies.
In 2021, the Kavango East region recorded 860 pregnancies among school-going girls, with the youngest being an 11-year-old.
Seeing girls below the age of 16 fall pregnant has become customary. However, according to the Combating of Immoral Practices Act 21 of 1980, the legal age to consent to a sexual act is 16.
This means any girl below the age of 16 that is impregnated is regarded as a rape victim.
It is also evident that older men form the majority of the culprits responsible for impregnating schoolgirls. However, the real dilemma is why are these culprits not arrested and charged with rape?
The country currently faces a rape epidemic.
The government and CSOs have made remarkable progress in mitigating teenage pregnancies. However, challenges manifesting in the lack of sustainable funding for contraceptives, the lack of sexual reproductive health rights information and services, and cultural beliefs only continue to hinder progress.
Namibia urgently needs the private sector to join the government and CSOs in reducing teenage pregnancies.
Poverty continues to adversely contribute to the increase in teenage pregnancies, while the demographic of girls falling pregnant becomes younger and rape goes unreported and unpunished.
The challenges the government and CSOs face are mammoth, and mitigating the teenage pregnancy crisis requires the weight of all players, the private sector included.