Bulawayo has recorded a sharp increase in the number of teenage pregnancies involving girls as young as 12.
According to statistics from Mpilo Central Hospital, one of the two major health institutions in the city, children aged from 12 to 16 years now account for about 30 percent of deliveries.
Teenagers, despite mental immaturity, have under-developed pelvises which increase the risk of obstructed labour, maternal deaths, paralysis and obstetric fistula.
Early sexual engagement also increases the risk of girls suffering cervical cancer, which is the leading cancer in Zimbabwe and one of killer, diseases among women.
Reports also show that when a girl falls pregnant, they drop out of school and eventually give up on their studies.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), early sexual debut and sexual abuse of female adolescents increase the girls’ risk of unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and psycho-social challenges in their lives.
UNFPA adds that the most cited reasons for teenage pregnancy include sexual abuse, lack of condom or contraceptives use, perceptions that one would not fall pregnant and unplanned sexual debuts.
Zimbabwean laws stipulate that sexual intercourse with girls below the age of 16 amounts to a crime that can see one facing “sex with a minor” charges.
Renowned gynaecologist and Mpilo acting chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said the worrying trend was also a sign of social decay in Zimbabwean communities.
He said there was need for authorities to trace men that are responsible for impregnating teenagers below 16 as that was a result of sexual abuse.
“There is a massive increase in teenage deliveries at Mpilo and we are sitting on a time bomb as a society. Generally, we used to record an average of 5 to 10 percent, teenage pregnancies about a year ago, but nowadays the rate has gone up to between 20-40 percent of the total deliveries,” said Prof Ngwenya.
“Previously we have dealt with teenagers aged 17-19 giving birth, but it is worrying now because a majority of these pregnancies are emanating from girls aged as young as 12 to 16 years.”
He said that for an average of 28 deliveries recorded at Mpilo daily, teenagers normally account for at least 11 of those.
Prof Ngwenya most of the affected teenage girls are not aware of the vast dangers they expose themselves to when engaging in sex early, hence the need for aunts and grandmothers to take an active role in counselling them as in the olden days.
“Teenage pregnancies are associated with serious complications, both for the mother and the baby that is why we discourage teenagers from engaging in sex in the first place.
“For some of them the pelvis is not yet fully developed so they end up with obstructed labour and in need of an emergency caesarean section. They are prone to suffer from preeclampsia, trauma from the birth canal which is not fully developed and end up dying during delivery,” added Prof Ngwenya.
He said the safest age for pregnancy would be at least 20 years and above. “We also discourage teenage sexual activities as they can easily contract STIs at a young age, we worry about HPV (human papilloma virus) which is linked to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is linked to people who engage in early sexual debut and is a killer disease in Zimbabwe,” said Prof Ngwenya. -Chronicle