BULAWAYO has recorded a sharp increase in the number of teenage preg_nancies including 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 pel_vises which increase the risk to obstructed labour, maternal deaths, paralysis and obstetric fistula.
Early se_xual 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 preg_nant, they drop out of school and eventually give up on their studies.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), early se_xual debut and se_xual abuse of female adolescents increase the girls’ risk to unintended preg_nancies, se_xually transmitted infections including HIV and psycho-social challenges in their lives.
UNFPA adds that the most cited reasons for teenage preg_nancy include se_xual abuse, lack of cond0m or contraceptives use, perceptions that one would not fall preg_nant and unplanned se_xual debuts.
Zimbabwean laws stipulate that se_xual intercourse with girls below the age of 16 amounts to a crime that can see one facing “se_x 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 impreg_nating teenagers below 16 as that was a result of se_xual 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 preg_nancies 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 preg_nancies 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 se_x early hence the need for aunts and grandmothers to take an active role in counselling them as in the olden days.
“Teenage preg_nancies are associated with serious complications both for the mother and the baby that is why we discourage teenagers from engaging in se_x in the first place.
“For some of them the pel_vis 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 preg_nancy would be at least 20 years and above.
“We also discourage teenage se_xual 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.