Pregnant adolescent refugees go back to school

ZAMBIA: Pregnant adolescent refugees go back to school


Adolescent pregnancies among refugees have been attributed to poverty-related causes

JOHANNESBURG, 22 Apr 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - Thirty pregnant teenage girls in a Zambian refugee camp were given an opportunity to go back to school last July in a pilot project initiated by the Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As the project nears completion, UN agencies are likely to extend it for a further year.

The initiative is being implemented by the Young Men's Christian Association as part of a UN Population Fund (UNFPA) programme to address the reproductive health of adolescent refugees.

The pilot project was launched in Meheba in northwest Zambia, one of the oldest refugee camps in the country. "We chose Meheba because it had a very high incidence of teenage pregnancies - the highest among all the refugee camps in Zambia," UNHCR's community services assistant in Zambia, Maureen Mushinge, told PlusNews on Thursday.

The girls are assisted with school fees, educational material and babysitting services to ensure they attend classes. Financial support for the project has been provided by the United States embassy in Zambia.

The high number of adolescent pregnancies among refugees was attributed to poverty-related causes. According to Mushinge, in most cases the girls had been lured into sexual relationships with older men for money.

When the 30 girls were identified for the project, 10 women from the camp were trained to become part of a task force to monitor the teenagers. "Each woman has one to four girls under her supervision. The task force has to ensure that the girls do not compromise themselves again and that they attend school regularly," Mushinge said.

UNFPA holds classes for the teenagers on reproductive health and HIV/AIDS awareness. "We try to help the girls by providing them with extra lessons initially, and child-minding skills," Mushinge explained.

The UNHCR senior regional community services officer in Zambia, Marie Lobo, was quoted in a press statement as saying that the project had two tracks. "The first is to assist the girls [to get] back to school, to put their lives in order, and to empower themselves through the process of education to learn how to take care of themselves and their babies, and to be able to say 'no' to further offers of sex for money," she explained.

"The second track is a preventive one that offers peer support to other girls who are seen going down the path of 'sugar daddies', money, sex and eventual ruination. The danger of HIV/AIDS is also brought to the attention of these young girls," she added.


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