Teen moms suffer grinding poverty in Zimbabwe
By Duduzile Ruzive
Bertha Mkandla (16), who lives in Trenance suburb in Bulawayo says her life turned for the worst when she got pregnant at the age of 14. She says her son is now 17 months old, and adds that from the time that she got pregnant, her life has been miserable.
Bertha says she is unable to provide for her child and at times it gets to a point where she feels that she cannot connect with her child because she always dreams what her life would have been like if she had not fallen pregnant.
“I live with my grandmother at this compound. My grandmother is a farm worker and she struggles to provide herself with basic needs. I also used to do some part time work on the fields but since I gave birth, I cannot work because I have to take care of the child. I survive on the little that my grandmother gives me,” says Bertha.
Bertha says when she got pregnant, her boyfriend flatly denied paternity. She says some people in the community encouraged her to report the case to the police but she says she was afraid that this would jeopardise any chance of getting married and that she also blamed herself for engaging in sexual activities at an early age.
“My boyfriend is a driver of a pirate taxi that operates in our area. I met him when I was going to school and we started an affair. At times I would abscond from school and spend the whole day with him in his taxi. I knew that he had other girlfriends but he told me that he loved me and that he would always be there for me,” says Bertha.
Bertha says when she got pregnant, she told her boyfriend but he got angry and accused her of being unfaithful and having multiple partners. She says the situation was compounded by the fact that at one point in their relationship, he had once got hold of a letter from one of her schoolmates who was proposing to her.
“I never had other boyfriends. When my boyfriend got hold of the letter, he questioned why I had kept it instead of destroying it. He accused me of being unfaithful. So when I told him about the pregnancy, he used the letter as evidence that I had multiple partners. He has never contributed any money towards the care of his child. He has even told me that I fell pregnant deliberately so as to force him into marrying her,” says Bertha.
Bertha says dropping out of school due to the pregnancy is her biggest regret and she feels that her life will never be better without education. She says following the pregnancy, her grandmother told her that she could no longer support her because she was now an adult.
Bertha’s grandmother, Gogo MaSiwela says she struggled to support Bertha with the hope that she will do well at school so that one day she would get a proper job and support her. She says her granddaughter’s pregnancy has revived the painful memories of Bertha’s mother who died because of AIDS.
“Bertha’s mother suffered the same fate. She got pregnant early and left her daughter with me as she joined the night life of sex work. She only came back here when she was seriously ill. Bertha was still very young but she was traumatised by her mother’s condition. I thought the incident would teach Bertha some lessons, but it is unfortunate that she has fallen into the same situation.
Gogo MaSiwela says her community is reeling from the scourge of teen pregnancies and that there are some incidences where some girls have fallen pregnant before the age of 13. She says currently the community is concerned following a case where a nine year old girls was found to be eight months pregnant. She says community members feel that soon, girls of that age in her community would be falling pregnant.
Narnia Mazibuka (17) who lives in Northend suburb in Bulawayo is one of the girls who fell pregnant at 15. Narnia says she was forced by her father to go and live with her boyfriend. She says her boyfriend is not gainfully employed and that their lives are miserable.
“My husband’s family ordered us to go and look for our own accommodation. My boyfriend was 21 years old and he did not have any resources. I wish I had not fallen pregnant. I could be still living with my parents and probably I would have completed my ordinary level studies,” says Narnia.
Gogo MaSiwela says the problem of young girls who are getting pregnant is of concern to the community because it is worsening the poverty level.
“There are so many young girls like Bertha who are living in deep poverty because there is no one to support them. Their children grow up in difficult circumstances and have no education. It is s vicious cycle of poverty and we do not know how to break it,” says Gogo MaSiwela.