They are young, innocent and ill-informed about sexual and reproductive health (SRH) issues especially about how to avoid early pregnancy. These are the 15-19 year-old girls in Tanzania, 27 percent of who are either mothers or expecting their first child.
Sadly, the number has risen (from 23% in 2010), and has generally stagnated: between 25% in 1999 and 27% 2015. This means 27 out of every 100 girls in this age group risk becoming mothers, and subjected to a cycle of poverty, helplessness and dependency.
This predicament is by no means accidental; it is an outcome of inertia in policy implementation across sectors and administrative structures; cultural insensitivity to adolescents’ SRH needs, and low political commitment to take bold steps to save adolescents lives. In many ways, neglecting this growing challenge denies the country of a potential work force that would otherwise, acquire high level education, and skills, to effectively contribute to socio-economic development.
A 2016 study Global Youth Family Planning Index by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) that measured the favorability of current national policy and program environments for youth uptake of contraception, ranked Tanzania high among the four countries studied (Kenya, Nigeria, and DRC). Yet, with respect to teenage pregnancy rate, Tanzania is second to DRC whose policy indicators leave a lot to be desired.
Why should this situation be allowed to prevail when 2015-16 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey and Malaria Indicator Survey (THDS-MIS) shows negligible progress in reducing the high fertility of 5.4 children per woman in the reproductive age, and increasing the contraceptive prevalence rate now at 34% (modern methods) – critical ingredients to lowering the rapid population growth of 2.7% per annum.
If left unchecked, the high teenage pregnancy trend would certainly compound poverty and dependency now is at 9:1 given its demographic profile whereby 65% of its population is under 25 years. Under these circumstances, Tanzania, whose population is project at 80 million by 2030, is unlikely to harness its demographic dividend.
Therefore, more investments and serious attention is needed to reverse the trend if the country is determined to attain a middle-income economy status by 2025; hence a national campaign to address teenage pregnancy is justified; and enhanced adolescent SRH knowledge and access to services should be the campaign’s driving force!