HARARE – About 50 000 school girls in South Africa fell pregnant in 2007, a figure which the South Africa Institute of Race relations say rose by 151 percent from 2003.
In Zambia, 15 000 girls fall pregnant every year and 28 600 Tanzanian girls dropped out of school after falling pregnant between 2004 and 2008.
In Zimbabwe, 1 out of 3 girls is dropping out of school after being turned into a child bride and in essence does not realise her full potential.
Some are expelled from school after falling pregnant.
Up until recently any school girl who got pregnant was expelled from school and most of them failed to continue with their education.
This practice violated their rights to education as is provided for in the Education Act of 1987 which mandates the ministry to ensure that all children are retained in school and finish their education cycle.
The ever increasing number of girls who fall pregnant in the country has pushed Zimbabwe, which is party to several international and regional laws that protect the rights of girls and women to act fast.
As part of the strategies to ensure the girl child accesses her right to education, the Education ministry introduced the “Second Chance Education Programme”.
Permanent secretary in the ministry Constance Chigwamba told delegates attending the inaugural commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child that the programme was put in place to assist those who wanted to continue with their education.
“We are not saying that girls should now go ahead and fall pregnant because they can also go back to school.
“But we are saying education is key to any meaningful development,” Chigwamba said.
Delegates heard how the ministry would assist girls to be re-integrated into their former schools or different school settings.
Other strategies being pursued by the ministry which seek to ensure gender parity in schools include the Basic Education Assistance Module to Assistance (Beam) to assist the underprivileged as well as supporting education partners like the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed).
Government also initiated the Cadet system for tertiary institutions but it has failed to sustain the programme to run smoothly as expected.
Instead of releasing $15 million for this current semester, government only managed to release $1 million for under privileged students.
Chigwamba said the ministry would also approve of text books that show gender parity in schools as well as conduct life and leadership skills camp through Girls Empowerment Movement (Gem).
The ministry will also hold science and maths camps for girls to ensure they compete with boys at the same level, a positive move that will see government achieve parity in terms of education.
This decision came after the realisation that girls fared better than boys at primary school level but started to fall back at secondary and high school level.
Child rights activists attribute this to the demands that a girl child has from the family and community.
This discrimination is done under the guise of culture which dictates that a girl child must be domesticated so that she can look after her husband and family.
Director of Girl Child Network (GCN) Edna Masanga blamed the patriarchal system which stifled girls.
“The playing field is not level as girls are being raised up to believe that they are supposed to be wives in the home,” Masanga said.
She added: “Harmful practices like virginity testing and genital mutilation put too much pressure on the girls.
“The girl has too many things to worry about like will I be a good wife to my husband than their education.”
Executive director of Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Emilia Muchawa said a “good number” of women that came to her office for help often regretted not completing the full cycle of their education.
“Some say that I fell pregnant and dropped out of school to assume the role of a wife…If only I had finished my education.”