Early and Unintended pregnancies: a hindrance to success for girls

Unintended pregnancies in the school environment in Burundi is a big challenge that shatters dreams for many girls. What should be done to prevent and reduce them? Isaac Irakoze goes through this great issue in our society.

Over the past decades, woman’s responsibilities were limited to domestic activities, giving birth to children, feeding and educating them. Homemaking was supposed to be her only main task. The school was reserved exclusively to boys. ‘‘Ntamashure y’umukobwa (School is not important for girls),’’ many Burundians unfortunately believed.

‘‘Buraca bugacana ayandi (the future may bring new things),’’ says Burundian wisdom. ‘‘Things fall apart’’, Chinua Achebe added. Now that old times fell apart, girls attend school as well as boys, what we could not imagine in the last centuries. However, considerable threats are still there. During the education process, the physiological maturity frightens more than one girl as changes appear abruptly. As they grow, some fall into unconscious promiscuity. Hence, the result is clear: many drop out school because of early and unintended pregnancies.

According to the ministry of national education and scientific research, the number of unintended pregnancies in schools has significantly decreased due to the projects « Menya Umenyeshe » and « Senge na Dawe » set up in different schools.  As he spoke to the senate on 24th February 2020, Gaspard Banyankimbona, yet Minister in charge of education, said that the government’s target was to reach zero pregnancy in schools. However, the latter objective is far from being achieved. In 2019-2020 school year, more than 1233 cases of pregnancies in schools were recorded by Christian Youth Solidarity for Peace and Childhood (SOJEPAE), a local NGO advocating for children and youth protection.

Why are unintended pregnancies on the rise?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 12 million teenagers aged between 15 and 19 years give birth every year in developing countries. Knowledge gaps in sexual and reproductive health, ineffective communication between parents and children, lack of enough information about contraceptive methods, sexual harassment by some teachers or administration staff, and poverty are among reasons for early and unintended pregnancies.

What does the Burundian society say?

Some Burundians are still ignorant about gender equality, women empowerment and equal opportunities for all. Few still believe that girls shouldn’t go to school.

“I got pregnant when I was in 9th grade. Desperately, after giving birth, my parents forbade me to go back to school. Rather, I was forced to choose either getting married or staying at home to educate my child, help my mother and prepare food for my siblings,” testifies Odette M.

“They convinced me with sayings ‘Ntamashure y’abakobwa (school is not important for girls)’ and ‘the diploma for a girl is a husband’ ”, she adds angrily.

The case of Emelyne Ntacijana is more problematic. A motorcyclist impregnated her when she was in grade 11. Since then, she left school for good.

“He gave me all what I asked him. Accidently, I got pregnant and my school expelled me,” she regrets.

What should be done to prevent or reduce early and unintended pregnancies?

Having zero pregnancy in schools is hard but possible. There is a need to raise awareness of some people. Some behaviors have to change. A trilogy made up of parents, children and government must work. They have to join their efforts to eliminate this problem.

Along with regular communication with their children particularly girls, parents should be aware of the danger and consequences of early and unintended pregnancies on adolescents, families and the whole country. More experienced, parents have to stay close to their adolescents so as to help, advise and show them a right way to a good future.

Adolescents have to be careful and responsible. They should be focused on studying hard and avoid anything that can kill their time.

With its main task to secure and protect people, the government should set up laws and principles to constrain girls’ sexual harassment. An independent commission to investigate and report on such cases should be established. Without joint efforts, the number of unintended pregnancies in school environment may keep increasing.