To start with, 150 teen mothers from Masoko ward, Kilwa District in Lindi Region will undergo about six months of intensive vocational and entrepreneurship training from early January next year.
Masoko ward executive officer Athuman Abdallah told The Guardian here over the weekend that the training is expected to enable the young mothers to set up small businesses including hairdressing, baking, and tailoring, to mention a few.
“They will also be linked with financing groups and institutions so they can access funding like loans to start income generating activities of their choice,” Abdallah said, adding:
“They will also be able to plan their families better as they will be well-versed in reproductive health education,” he said.
To be implemented in collaboration with the Kiota Women’s Health and Development (KIWOHEDE) group, the initiative will target most vulnerable young girls stricken with multiple challenges of early pregnancies and marriages.
KIWOHEDE is a non- government organisation focused on promoting reproductive health, children’s rights, development and advocacy. It engages in rights promotion, social economical and development approaches.
According to Abdallah, the project will open up more opportunities for the girls to fulfil their potential within the communities they live in, and thus contribute meaningfully to social and national development at large.
He said there are many children in the ward being subjected to various hardships including child labour, poverty, early pregnancies and marriages.
Early marriage, early initiation of sex, and lack of information about sex are the leading drivers of adolescent pregnancies in southern Tanzania and perhaps across the country.
Said Abdallah: “Teenage pregnancies and early marriages present a major challenge to girls who have no support. The Kilwa Kisiwani community is a low income generating group comprised mostly of fishing people. Poverty is on the increase in the community due to low fish catches these days.”
“Teenage pregnancies are also on the rise. Many of these young mothers are abandoned to live on their own. As they lack the skills needed to make ends meet, a number of them end up living really hard lives.”
Asha Jamal (not her real name), one of the project’s beneficiaries, expressed her gratitude for being given the chance.
“I really appreciate the Masoko ward authorities for making this programme a reality. I am one of the early marriage victims, I have suffered a lot, but I hope that now I can make a change and go on to live a decent life,” Asha said.
She called on other teen girls to stop rushing into love affairs and focus more on their studies to attain their future dreams.
“It is my plea to my fellow young girls who will be part of this training to ensure that we all focus on what we will be taught for our own benefit,” she said.
Government statistics show there were over 69,000 teen pregnancies in Tanzania last year. About 21 per cent of girls in the country aged 15-19 have already given birth, with the figure rising to 45 per cent in some areas.
The child marriage rate is more than 35 per cent nationally, and is at its highest, (59 per cent) in Shinyanga Region. About 20 per cent of Tanzanian girls also suffer female genital mutilation, though activists believe the true figure is higher. FGM figures reach 81 per cent in one region, Manyara.
Although all these figures are lower than they were five years ago, activists fear President Magufuli’s hardline stance may reverse the gains that have been made.