“Safe Spaces for Learning”

…Zambia advances efforts to provide ongoing and secure education for teenage mothers

By Francis Maingaila

The Forum for Women Education in Zambia (FAWEZA) has expressed concern over the rising rates of teenage pregnancies and called for collaborative action to address the issue. Executive Director Costern Kanchele presented recommendations to stakeholders at Hotel InterContinental in Lusaka, emphasizing the need for comprehensive reforms to protect young girls’ rights and futures.

FAWEZA’s recommendations include providing comprehensive support to pregnant teenagers, encompassing access to safe housing, financial assistance, and psychosocial support. Additionally, they stressed the importance of raising awareness of re-entry policies, particularly in rural areas where teenage pregnancies are more prevalent.

To enhance guidance and counseling services, FAWEZA suggested retraining and recruiting specialized personnel and advocating for legislative support to facilitate the return of pregnant girls to their original schools without any transfers. Furthermore, they urged the government to allocate adequate funding for school feeding programs to meet the nutritional needs of students and involve teachers in encouraging pregnant girls to return to school, possibly through designated engagement days.

Kanchele emphasized the need for a prompt review of re-entry policies and timely implementation of revised guidelines, as well as collaboration with partners like the Ministry of Education and UNESCO to implement pregnancy prevention programs within a clear policy framework. He also stressed the importance of developing a concrete action plan in partnership with stakeholders to consolidate and disseminate these recommendations while complementing government efforts.

Kanchele underscored the interconnectedness of pregnancy, school re-entry, and safety concerns, highlighting the need for holistic reforms to safeguard young girls’ educational rights and well-being. Fortunately, the Ministry of Education is currently reviewing the re-entry policy guidelines, offering a glimmer of hope for meaningful change.

Stephen Zimba, Principal Planning Officer at the Ministry of Education, highlighted the implementation challenges facing the Government’s re-Entry Policy for pregnant students.

“The policy, introduced in 1996, aims to prevent the expulsion of pregnant girls from schools and ensure they can continue their education after giving birth,” Zimba explained.

While the policy has evolved with guidelines to assist schools, stakeholders have raised concerns about its implementation.

Zimba noted that pregnant students can attend classes until nearing delivery and request leave, but stakeholders advocate for more time for recovery before returning to school.

“Efforts to mitigate stigma and promote cultural attitude shifts are ongoing but face challenges,” he said.

Dropout rates, particularly in primary schools, are influenced by inadequate facilities and stigmatization, resulting in dropouts. Secondary schools report higher reentry rates, but girls face rural challenges and stigmatization barriers.

“Collaboration among stakeholders is crucial for effective policy implementation,” Zimba emphasized,

“but parental attitudes and some mission schools may not fully adhere to government regulations, complicating implementation.”

Lack of childcare support and societal stigma affect pregnant girls’ ability to return to school. Proposed solutions emphasize accurate data for monitoring performance and crafting interventions.

“The Ministry actively seeks feedback and collaboration to refine guidelines and support pregnant girls’ education,” Zimba said.

Despite obstacles, efforts to ensure pregnant students can continue their education after childbirth remain a priority.

“The Ministry has embarked on a comprehensive restructuring initiative to bolster guidance and counseling services in schools nationwide by 2028,” he announced.

This plan aims to address challenges hindering student retention and equitable access to education.

“The restructuring plan, endorsed in 2018, integrates guidance and counseling roles within every educational institution, prioritizing holistic student development,” Zimba explained.

Stakeholders propose legislation making education compulsory for all school-aged children, addressing socio-economic factors like early marriages and inadequate childcare facilities.

The plan also includes enhanced tracking systems, personalized support for students who drop out, and fostering a supportive school environment to eradicate social stigma and facilitate reintegration into the education system.

“Parliamentarians have committed to advocating for these pressing issues, recognizing education as the cornerstone of societal progress and equity,” Zimba concluded.

Prof. Enala Tembo Mwase, Chairperson of the Forum for African Women Educationalists in Zambia (FAWEZA), urged stakeholders to enhance school safety and security measures to support young mothers returning to education after pregnancy.

Addressing government officials, civil society organizations, and the Make Way Country Coordinating Group, Prof. Mwase highlighted the challenges faced by young mothers and the need for collaborative efforts to address them.

The meeting aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of current re-entry policy guidelines and identify areas for improvement.

Key challenges discussed included low return rates (less than 50%) and dropouts due to stigmatization, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), long distances to schools, and separation from their children.

Stakeholders emphasized the need for additional policies, such as stronger protection against SGBV in and around schools, transportation or closer schooling options, and child-friendly facilities within schools.

The meeting employed participatory approaches like panel discussions and interactive sessions to ensure comprehensive stakeholder engagement and generate actionable strategies.

Stakeholders committed to identifying strategies to enhance safety and security for girls returning to school and establishing stronger partnerships to support these measures.

Prof. Mwase expressed gratitude to participants and affirmed, “Our collective efforts are crucial to making schools safe and welcoming for young mothers. Together, we can create a more inclusive and supportive educational environment.”

The meeting concluded with a renewed commitment from all stakeholders to work collaboratively towards enhancing safety and security in schools for young mothers, upholding their right to education.

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