Too young for motherhood

Too young for motherhood

MOHALE’S HOEK – THE Phamong Health Centre has established a project for mothers-in-law to take the lead in encouraging their teenage daughters-in-law to go back to school.

This comes after realising that a lot of girls in the rural region of Mohale’s Hoek, some as young as 15, continue to get married, not by force but by choice.

Married and with children, they often drop out of school to seek jobs that will help them provide for their babies’ daily needs.

The Phamong Health Centre’s project, named Lingoetsi le Bo-Matsale, aims at helping mothers-in-law to provide positive motherly influence on these young mothers.
The project, driven through village health workers, also aims at instilling in young mothers responsibilities of

mothering and the consequences of their choices.
It also seeks to introduce them to family planning methods and to get mothers-in-law to turn away the old Sesotho adage, ngoetsi ke ngoetsi ka bana (a daughter-in-law must bear children).

The project also seeks to engage mothers-in-law on Sexual Reproduction Health Rights (SRHR) issues.
’Makhutsitseng Lerotholi is one of the mothers-in-law who are part of the project. A lay counsellor who has been working as a village health worker since 1979, Lerotholi said the initiative is one of the health tactics used to encourage HIV/AIDS testing, improve health care, safe child deliveries and family planning.

She says it also discourages underage pregnancy prompted by child marriages.
Lerotholi says she mothered her 15-year-old daughter-in-law when her last born son decided to marry in 2014.
She says she could not believe it when her son brought home a teenager as a wife.

“They both told me they loved each other and had planned on eloping for some time,” Lerotholi says.
“I had to grow a thick skin because as a health worker in the village, everyone is looking up to you to have your children make the right decision,” she says.

Lerotholi says she had to sit down with her new daughter-in-law who had just completed primary education to advise her to continue with her studies.

The girl could not continue to secondary education because her family could not afford school fees.
“I was ready and willing to pay for her studies because her husband had dropped out without any reason,” Lerotholi says.

“We talked about family planning measures so that she does not fall pregnant in the course of her studies and that there is no hurry in becoming a mother at her age,” she says.

Unfortunately, the young woman stopped taking family planning pills, fell pregnant and dropped out of school.
“This hurt me to the core,” Lerotholi says, adding: “We had talked about this so many times that I was shocked when she told me she had decided to stop contraceptives altogether.”

Her daughter-in-law’s future had to come to a hold because of the responsibility to care for her baby.
“Still I did not stop to encourage her to continue on contraceptives once the baby was born. She opted for implants which I supported because they are the longest lasting contraceptives.”

Lerotholi says they started the Lingoetse le Bo-Matsale project when they realised that some mothers-in-law were discouraging daughters-in-law from continuing with education.

Also, she says, some mothers-in-law were encouraging their daughters-in-law to engage in practices that are discouraged by health experts at the clinic.

“They take traditional medication that is said to quicken delivery and do not go to waiting rooms on time, especially those that travel long distances before getting to a health centre,” Lerotholi says.

Lerotholi says the relationship between a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law is very important in advancing better health delivery.

She says as a woman who has been trained in basic health care and having worked for 40 years as a volunteer village health worker, “it was high time that the tradition of mothers-in-law behaving like health experts in the lives of their children comes to an end”.

“Some mothers-in-law are not aware that they have to take part in protecting the lives of their young daughters-in-law.”

She says the project helps with information and training on sexual reproductive rights and as well as creating favourable communication channels for better relations.
“We advise families to at least sit down and counsel the youngsters so that they delay getting married until the girl is of the right age,” she says.

“It is hard to initiate this because child marriage has been practised for years and indeed some people still see no problem in having a 14-year-old daughter-in-law.”

’Makhotso Mohau, a lay counsellor at Bethel Health Centre, says the initiative has proven a success because more young women are taking part.

“In the past, it would be difficult to discuss issues of family planning with your mother-in-law. It was worse to even communicate how many children you want because we would be told that our work is to increase the clan name and nothing else,” Mahau said.

She says the programme has also assisted in educating mothers-in-law on the importance of allowing their daughters-in-law to continue with school in order to eradicate poverty.

“Just because I was married at 14 years and stopped going to school shouldn’t mean the same should happen to someone’s daughter who my son has decided to marry,” Mohau says.

“We live in an advanced world where our aim is to break the dreariness,” she says.
Likhapha Ntho, a midwife at Phamong Health Centre, says the programme is one of the ways that the clinic uses to spread health education.

She says they also conduct health talks and counselling during old age pensions pay days where they talk to the elderly about the ills of child marriages. They also discuss sexual reproductive health and general health issues that contribute to HIV/AIDS, TB and cancer, she says.

Rose Moremoholo

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