When ‘kids’ have babies

When ‘kids’ have babies

QUTHING – THE hospital bed shakes violently as she twists in pain.
Her head, now covered in unruly hair, is at the bottom of the bed.
The teenage girl who is now panting heavily is having labour pains.
The nurses are telling her to breathe in through the mouth and out through the nose but she is struggling.
This is a common sight at Quthing Government Hospital’s maternity ward.
Every day nurses here help girls, some as young as 14, deliver babies.
This one is 15.

She raises her head slowly as a group of people enter the ward.
It’s a group of MPs touring health centres in Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing with the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The UNFPA is a UN agency that seeks to deliver a “world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled”.
With journalists in tow, the MPs are here to assess the Sexual Reproductive and Health Rights (SRHR) initiative.
The SRHR initiative involves efforts to eliminate preventable maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity.
This is to ensure quality sexual and reproductive health services, including contraceptive services and to address sexually transmitted infections (STI) and cervical cancer, violence against women and girls. It also provides sexual and reproductive health needs for adolescents.

“I’m 15 years old,” the girl whispers in response to an inquiry from ’Mantšiuoa Mosothoane, one of the visiting MPs.
She says she is from Mphaki in Quthing and she is not married.
She talks to the MPs between gasps of breath in a whispery voice. A soft nod is all she manages when one MP asks if she plans to go back to school.
The four expectant mothers in one of the wards are teenagers. The youngest is 15 and the oldest 18.
Most say their boyfriends have either denied responsibility or fled.
“There is nothing we can do if they flee. My parents have requested payment for damages but it means I am going to raise the child alone,” says one.

Most say they could not use condoms because their partners “did not have any at the time of the intercourse”.
Some say they have no access to condoms or contraceptives.
Others say they are too embarrassed to take condoms.
“We only learn about family planning at school but to access such is difficult,” one says.
“Imagine me and my mother in the same line to collect a pill or have an injection, it is really a big challenge.
Another one chips in: “We will go back to school if only our parents allow us.”
Most of the girls know they will not be able to go back to school because they have to work to fend for their babies.

Authorities in Quthing say many girls are oblivious of the consequences of teenage pregnancy and early marriages.
Phamong Health Centre, which is in Mohale’s Hoek, is grappling with a surge in teenage pregnancies. There is a 15-year-old in its maternity ward. In the waiting rooms is another 15-year-old girl.
’Makhutsitseng Lerotholi, a councillor and a retired Village Health Worker, says teenage pregnancy “is a disaster in the Lithipeng council”, the catchment area for Phamong Health Centre.
“That these children get pregnant is unbelievable. The numbers keep increasing especially girls at Bethel High school. It is shocking!” Lerotholi says.
Within Bethel High School is Bethel Health Centre, a Roman Catholic-owned institution which does not offer family planning services.
Cecilia Rakanwa, a nurse midwife at Bethel Health Centre, says teenage pregnancy has been the biggest problem at the campus.

Rakanwa says they were shocked when they discovered the number of students who drop out of school after falling pregnant.
She however says they have recently seen a steady drop in the number of pregnancies after the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association (LPPA) and Phamong Health Centre started providing contraceptives.
Lerotholi says in her door-to-door health talks, she has resorted to telling parents to put their teenage girls on the pill or injection as soon as they suspect they are sexually active.
“At least we should protect them against pregnancy until they are through secondary school.”
Lerotholi says part of the problem is that parents consider it taboo to speak about reproductive matters with their children.

Parents often tell her that they don’t know where or how to start introducing the subject.
Those willing to discuss the matter often worry that talking about contraceptives could encourage their children to engage in sex.
“These are real challenges that in the journey of being addressed we create tactics that will work in our favour,” Lerotholi says.
The Phamong Health Centre has also established an Adolescent Corner to encourage teenagers who talk about reproductive health issues.
At Mpharane Health Centre in Mohale’s Hoek nearly 90 percent of the expectant mothers are aged between 15 and 23.

According to Mookho Kotelo, the midwife, the hospital delivers at least 10 babies daily and most of them belong to teenage mothers.
“By 17 years they come back married and get pregnant with their second child,” Kotelo says.
Mpharane Health Centre has introduced a teen club coordinated by Mothers to Mothers, a social club that encourages mothers to share their experiences.
Kotelo says from the discussions at the club’s meetings they have discovered that most of the teenagers are impregnated by older men “who lure them with money and promising them a good life”.
“It is not because they are raped or abused in anyway. It is the life they chose, this is why most of them are not married,” one of the coordinators says.

The principal of Bethel High School, Thaka-banna Nchela, says there has been a reduction in teenage pregnancies among students over the past three years.
Nchela says most of his students are orphans who are “easily lured by older men because they want to sustain themselves and sometimes their siblings”.
“They have to fend for themselves and in doing so we lose them to pregnancy,” Nchela says.
This year alone the school has recorded three pregnancies and drop-outs. But this is the lowest number they have recorded in the first half of the year.
Teenage pregnancy in Lesotho remains unacceptably high, with estimates of 20 percent in 2004 and 19 percent in 2014, according to the latest statistics captured in the Lesotho Review 2019.
These numbers are even higher among adolescent girls in rural areas, according to the publication.

Rose Moremoholo

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