THE Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education yesterday said Bulawayo has a relatively high number of pupils who fell pregnant during the Covid-19 lockdown and if nothing is done, they may miss examinations to the detriment of their future.
Speaking during the committee’s tour of schools in Bulawayo, the chairperson Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said the pregnancies were a cause of concern.
She said even though she did not have the exact figures, she was aware that many girls had fallen pregnant, a development that should, however, not stress them as Government, through its inclusive education stance, now has a provision for pregnant pupils.
The committee toured Mhali Primary School and Magwegwe High School both in Magwegwe suburb.
At Magwegwe High the head confirmed that seven pupils from one class were no longer coming to school after falling pregnant despite the fact that they were supposed to write their final examinations which started yesterday.
According to statistics from Mpilo Central Hospital, one of the two major health institutions in the city, children aged 12 to 16 now account for about 30 percent of deliveries.
Treasury recently set aside $123 million for the provision of psycho-social support for pupils who fall pregnant, in a move that reaffirms Government’s position on the need to protect the rights of the girl child.
The Government position is that the previous provision that allowed school authorities to expel pregnant pupils was discriminatory to the girl child.
Presenting the National Budget last Thursday, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Professor Mthuli Ncube, said the allocation was to ensure the implementation of the new provision
He said Government now allows for non-exclusion of pregnant girls in schools and to ensure observance of this provision, psycho-social support will be enhanced at schools hence the allocation of ZWL$123 million towards that.
Prior to the amendments of the Education Act, school authorities could expel a girl for falling pregnant but spare the boy responsible for the pregnancy, which was seen as discriminatory against the girl child.
The budget allocation follows the approval in August by President Mnangagwa of the amendment of the Education Act.
“The most worrying thing in Bulawayo was the seemingly very high rate of girls who fell pregnant during the Covid-19 lockdown and none of them have come back to school.
This speaks to either lack of knowledge that they can come back to school but also there is a lot of stigma associated with someone falling pregnant so the parents and children do not know how to deal with the stigma,” said Ms Misihairabwi- Mushonga.
“We have asked the school heads to trace those pupils, particularly those writing exams so that they can at least write exams and we see how we can deal with them next year. The high rate of pregnancy is worrying and we need to start talking about ways to ensure the affected realise they can still access school despite falling pregnant.”
She said it was important for school heads to initiate conversations on pregnancy and stigma so that affected pupils get the psycho-social support needed to continue with school.
According Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga, it will take willing school authorities to bring back the pregnant pupils to school which may be their only way out of poverty and underdevelopment.
She said the figures released so far could just be a tip of the iceberg as many schools seem to have lost a number of girls during the long Covid-19-induced break.
“It will be wise for school heads and authorities to publicly announce that whoever fell pregnant during lockdown has a right to continue with their studies especially those who are supposed to be writing their final A and O-level examinations,” said Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga.
The committee is also checking on the progress made so far to ensure schools adhere to Covid-19 guidelines to curb the spread of the deadly virus which has killed 277 Zimbabweans.
“We also realised that there are very few pupils that had access to the online education and radio programmes during lockdown both in Bulawayo and Matabeleland South province which we visited on Monday,” said Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga. – Chronicle