On Friday, the 9th of August 2019, an article with the headline “Arrest pregnant under-age girls – MP, was published by the Times of Swaziland. The article reported that Member of Parliament (MP), Michael Masuku, stated that teenage pregnancy should be a punishable offence.
Saying that making teenage pregnancy a punishable offence would reduce its escalating rate in the country is not constructive. Should the article and its headline be accurate, there are quite a number of questions that come to mind.
Are these teenagers impregnating themselves? Why should the girl child bear the result of an act she committed with a male counterpart? Are we, as emaSwati, making any real progress towards gender equality if one party – a female – is being punished for an act committed by two parties? And last, do our leaders believe that such patriarchal opinions will make an effective change in our communities and societies?
Worth noting in umhlonishwa (Honourable) Masuku’s statements are real issues, such as the fact that one of the major causes of teenage pregnancy is the inability of parents to talk to their children about sex, which does indeed result in misguided information from peers. Why then, is the female child being punished for crimes that are a result of a lack of parental guidance and emotional support? Should we persecute a child who is forced to drop out of school? How is arresting girls going to serve as a corrective measure for these young females?
Falling pregnant while still at school is not something that young women usually pride themselves in.
Instead, they often feel ashamed and are shunned by peers and families as a result of the early pregnancy. It is often found to be an obstacle to their progress and strife for a better life. It is not as if when other females see a pregnant peer they aspire to do the same.
Young girls are already dropping out of school because of the demanding burden of being pregnant and raising a child. Arresting under-age girls may have a grave impact as being arrested carries yet more damaging and negative stigma for a vulnerable young person to deal with. As we have seen with alcohol and substance abuse, arresting girls who fall pregnant is certainly no way to solve this problem. This may significantly increase health risks or even fatalities of these under-age girls as, again due to misguided peer information, many may be tempted to illegally terminate their pregnancies or even take their lives.
It would be more appropriate if our esteemed lawmakers would look into strengthening the implementation of the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act of 2012. The child’s home situation needs to be evaluated, as often these young people are impregnated by older men who should be the ones being punished for such offences. Arresting a pregnant under-age girl is oppressing the rights of that child and it is the duty of law enforcers to protect these children. To also say that all parties should be arrested is not a solution to teenage pregnancy. Children need to be informed about sexual behaviour and not imprisoned. Young people should have the freedom to continue with their lives, pursuing their education and dreams.
Umhlonishwa Masuku, in his utterances, did not show qualities of a progressive leader who is in support of the human rights and equality of all genders. Furthermore, suggestions of this sort by those in positions of power and influence do little to advance our Human Rights, gender equality or public health agendas. What corrective or rehabilitative measures are to be gained by having a child bear sole responsibility of an act committed with another, often older, person?
This statement sadly goes against what the nation hopes for – that people in positions of leadership will bring sustainable solutions not just for their communities, but for the nation at large.
Read comments made by eSwatini Member of Parliament, Michael Masuku, here.
Issued by Kwakha Indvodza, a member of MenEngage Swaziland Network. Edited by Khopotso Bodibe, Communications & Media Co-Ordinator, MenEngage Africa (MEA) Alliance.