SWANCEFA Research On Young Girls School-drop outs in Eswatini; Key findings and analysis

Early and unintended pregnancy or teenage pregnancy for school going young girls is a cause for concern for the Kingdom of Eswatini


Early and unintended pregnancy or teenage pregnancy for school going young girls is a cause for concern for the Kingdom of Eswatini. Literature is showing that a substantive number of girls are dropping out of school due to teenage pregnancy. Eswatini has young people taking the largest proportion in the whole populace with an estimate of about 34% of population aged 10 to 24 years and this translate to about 400,000 out of a population of 1.2 million people . Projections are showing that the number of young people is increasing compared to the older population (Population Projections Report 2007 to 2030). The Annual Education Census Reports reveals that pregnancy is amongst the main contributors of dropouts for girls. Surmounting the problem is that even young boys are dropping out of school, citing pregnancy as the reason. This means that boys intentional or unintentional are forced to leave school after impregnating their female counterpart. This predicament is defeating the efforts of the Ministry of Education and Training whose mandate is to ensure access to education and provision of relevant, quality and affordable education and training opportunities for the entire populace in order to develop all positive aspects of life for self-reliance, social and economic development and global competitiveness. In light of the fact that the country has such a youthful population drastic efforts should be made to address the challenge.

Primary School Drop outs Source AEC 2016

The Annual Education Census reports that a significant number of learners are dropping out of school due to pregnancy; this is a major drawback for the country in as far the socio economic participation for all citizens is concerned.  Even though the education sector has been successful in ensuring access and child participation in the education system there are still major push out factors, which include pregnancy amongst others. The findings of the Out-of-School study conducted by MoET (2018) also confirm that learners are dropping out of school due to teenage pregnancy. Precisely the study cites a number barriers and bottlenecks preventing children from attending school in Eswatini these include teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and orphan hood, attitudes towards schooling, violence against children. This reaffirms what the AEC reports have revealed since 2012. Pregnancy as a determinant for dropping out of school is not only affecting girls but data shows that even boys are also forced to leave school if they have impregnated their female counterpart.

In the year 2016 alone there were a total of 1308 female learners reported to have dropped out due to pregnancy in all the levels of education. This is a serious concern that needs drastic interventions to mitigate the situation. This means the country is still far from achieving its intended goal of ensuring that every Swazi is armed with education to be able to be independent, self-reliant and contribute meaningfully to the socio economic of the country.

Data gathered from the Annual Education Census shows that in the year 2016 alone a total of 6,570 learners from primary school dropped out school. If death and transfers are excluded (because they may not necessarily mean the learner has dropped out) in the data, we get a total of 3,103 learners who dropped out of school citing other reasons including pregnancy. Of the 3,103 learners, 230 of them dropped out due to pregnancy, 203 are girls and 27 are boys. Of note the data also shows that a considerable number of learners who dropped out were mostly in grade 5, 6 and 7. These are leaners between the ages 10 to 15 years which is an adolescent stage, a very critical period for human development which comes with different pressures. This is the time when many young people initiate their first romantic and sexual relationships. When comparing 2015 the numbers are increasing, in 2015 there were a total of 184 female learners who dropped out of school due to pregnancy. The data also reveals that boys are not spared from this challenge they are also dropping out due to reasons related to pregnancy.

Also data from the AEC indicates that the rate of pregnancy is steadily increasing especially among girls, though between 2014 and 2015 there was slight decrease. The insignificant decrease may not be just by chance, it may mean that there are interventions addressing teenage pregnancy that are being implemented currently in school and out of school.

Junior and Senior secondary dropout rates: source AEC 2016

The data shows that in the year 2016 alone, in Secondary schools (form 1 to form 6) a total of 1,179 learners dropped out of school due to pregnancy, 921 were girls and 258 were boys. From the 921 a total of 626 were from lower secondary (form1 to form3) and 295 were from senior secondary (form 4 to form 6).

The AEC reports is showing a depressing data, for a country that is exhausting all means to ensure that young people are accessing quality education. It is resource wastage since primary school education in the country is state funded and orphans and vulnerable learners are also paid for in the Orphan and Vulnerable Children fund which is also provided by government.

A situation Analysis of early and unwanted pregnancy conducted in ten (10) East and Southern Africa countries including Eswatini in (2018) shows that ESA region has the highest adolescent fertility rates in the world. The adolescent fertility rate in Eswatini is reported to be 87 per 1000 females aged 15 to 19 years (UNFPA 2016).  SDHS 2007 indicates that teenage pregnancy was at 24% and over the years it has not decline despite the numerous efforts in place to curb the situation. This therefore means that the country needs to strengthen preventative programmes addressing EUP. The Swaziland behavioral surveillance survey (SBSS, 2001) reports that in-school young people aged 15 to 19 years started sex at an average of 16.3 years compared to 17.4 years to out-of-school youth. Although the difference is insignificant but there is an opportunity that schools can be a protective mechanism against teenage pregnancy therefore is a need to strengthen the existing school interventions.

Some Key drivers of teenage pregnancy in Eswatini

Literature cites a number of factors contributing to teenage pregnancy; these will be discussed in turn below:

Early sexual debut

Literature is showing an undeniable fact that early sexual debut amongst adolescent is high in the country. MICS (2014) reveals that 3% of young people aged 15 to 24 years reported to have had sexual intercourse before the age of 15. According to SBCC (2001) most young people experience first sex between 15 and 19 years old and girls in rural areas and boys in urban areas tend to have first sex earlier. A survey conducted by the then Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (2001) reveals that monthly sexual intercourse occurred among girls is 60% whilst for boys is 50% for the schools that have participated in that survey. So this gives an idea that young people engage in sexual activity at a very young age.

Barriers to accessing ASRH Information and Services

Amidst the moral teachings of abstinence encouraged in the country there is a need to address those that are already sexual active. Findings from the Socio-Cultural Factors Influencing ASRH Service Utilization (2016) points out that most adolescent report attitudinal and institutional factors as main barriers for accessing SRH services.

Sexual and Gender Based Violence.

Literature is showing that sexual violence against children and women is prevalent in the country. UNICEF (2007), reports that 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. The study also shows that the prevalence of forced sex among females aged 18 to 24 prior the age of 18 was 7.2 % and the prevalence of coerced sex prior the age of 18 is 12.1% and the prevalence of unwanted sex prior the age 18 was 20.5%. This is disturbing evidence more so because the age cohort described above are young people who are in school or age eligible to be in school.

Peer Pressure, Transactional and Intergenerational sex

Peer pressure is also cited as one of the factors contributing to early and unwanted pregnancies. Tsabedze (2016) reveals that young people are persuaded by the peers to engage in sexual activity with older man in exchange for money, cellphones and other luxuries. She further points out that older man usually would not want to use a condom. Studies shows that the greater the economic gift or transfer the less likely it is for safe sex to be practiced (UNESCO 2013). The AEC reports also shows that some elements of intergenerational sexual relationships are possible because when comparing the number of boys dropping out due to pregnancy, it is relatively small compared to that of girls which may mean the people impregnating girls are not school learners it could be older people. This is further confirmed in different literatures that in most cases girls are more likely to be initiated to sex by older partners and engage in unconsented sex and it is more likely without protection. The perpetrators are taking advantage of the fact that the girls are young, decisions on using condom will in most cases rely on the older partner.    

Grade repetition

The MoET’s Repetition Study (2018) indicates that, grade repetition increases chances of learners developing inappropriate behavioral problems. Although the study has not unpacked the kinds of behaviors the child may exhibit, behavioral problems especially among girls may include involving themselves in risky sexual behaviors. The child may feel that she is losing it in class; the wayward behavior will be used as defense mechanism or as a way of escaping from her failures. The study also reveals that grade repetition also leads to embarrassment and stigmatization; this attacks her dignity as a human being. If a child has low self-esteem the likely hood to end up hooked in sexual relationship is very high, she will enjoy the enticing by the opposite sex and feel that her dignity and value as a person is being recognized and that to her it will be a way of rebuilding the dignity she has lost from the constant repetition.

Low levels of education  

Low levels of education is one of the determinants of young people to have early and unintended pregnancies, this is both from the parents and the child perspective. MICS (2010) reveals that 35% of women with only primary education had a live birth by the age of 18. Education plays a pivotal role in influencing decisions on reproductive health. The less educated the parents and the girl child the likelihood for the child to fall pregnant 

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