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By: Justicia Shipena

Clinical psychologist at the education ministry, Ayesha Wentworth, says a study conducted by the ministry has found that 30% of learners do not understand menstruation.

Wentworth said this during the conclusion of the public hearing on legalising abortion held by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs.

The ministry across all regions administered the study on menstrual health and management last year.

“In the regions where children do not know what menstruation is about, they are likely not to protect themselves. How can they ensure that they do not get pregnant when they know nothing about their menstruation?” Wentworth questioned.

She added that the study revealed that most of the learners are getting their information on menstruation from their Life Skills teachers, followed by the mother.

Wentworth expressed that they have found there is a lot of misinformation surrounding menstruation.

“The children may be known about menstruation but not much about it. Most of them thought that when one is pregnant, you still menstruate,” she said.

On sexual activity, the study has found that 30% of the learners are sexually active.

“If we look at the age ranges, it starts as young as 11 years old. So, these are some worrisome figures.”

According to the study, 59% of the girls interviewed by the ministry said they knew a pregnant classmate.

“86% of those girls were able to go back to school after delivery; however, in Karas and Kunene regions, it showed a higher rate of dropouts according to the reply of the schoolgirls,” said Wentworth.

Additionally, 75% of girls thought that the schools make an effort to keep those girls in school, and 28% say that early pregnancy is often stigmatised.

“They are mostly stigmatised by other girls and boys as well as some teachers. We also found that 79% of girls thought that those pregnancies could have been prevented.”

In 2013, the ministry carried out a global school-based student health survey. The survey showed that 26% of learners aged 13 to 15 had had sexual intercourse.

“However, between 16 and 17 years of age, 57.9% had sexual intercourse. The total percentage of learners who had sexual intercourse stands at 46.2%,” she said.

Amongst those who had sexual intercourse before the age of 14, the statistics stand at 71.6%, with an overall 49% between the ages of 13 and 17.

“Of those who had sexual intercourse, 67% aged 13 to 15 used a condom and 78.2% of the older ones used a condom.”

According to her, from 2009 until last year, there has been a stable trend in school dropouts, excluding an increase in 2015 and 2016 and the previous year.

“We have found that many schools do not report learner pregnancies or dropouts because the children are not supposed to drop out according to the policy. They are supposed to be coming back to school. So, this is a false reporting in that sense because the principals don’t want to be seen that they are not allowing the girls to come back to school,” she explained.

Last year, during the lockdown, there was a doubling of learner pregnancy, and the figures are much higher than the previous years.

“The Zambezi, the two Kavango regions, Ohangwena and Omusati, topped the list of learner pregnancy during the lockdown,” she said.

Namibia recorded 3 683 learner pregnancy cases and 2 348 school dropouts in 2020.

In August last year, Wentworth’s comments came when the international relations minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah wrote a letter to the education ministry to discontinue comprehensive sexual education (CSE) in the school curriculum. Nandi-Ndaitwah later withdrew her request on CSE.

Revised in 2013, the CSE course is part of the life skills subject intending to give learners in Grade 4 to Grade 12 the knowledge, attitudes, skills and values to make appropriate and healthy choices in their sexual lives.

Speaking at the same event, PDM Member of Parliament Elma Dienda called for people to come out and speak about their abortion experiences.

“I want somebody to come and tell us that they have done an abortion and the reasons why they did it,” she said.

Dienda said the country needs to hear from that point of view.

“The thing is, we don’t tell our stories to the world so that they can have the empathy for us and understand from where it is coming from,” she said.

She added that should a referendum be called upon, those that have undergone an abortion procedure need to speak for themselves.

“The people who went through abortion need to stand up and be bold. They need to speak about what they want and share the aftermath of the experience.”

In this vein, the Namibia National Students Organization (Nanso) said it supports the repeal of the current law on abortion.

“The student leader’s congregation resolved to support and join the frontline in the advocacy of the legalisation of abortion informed by the supreme understanding and status quo that manifests in our society,” Nanso’s Thrive Mahua stated.

The decision comes after the student body held a general council sitting on issues that propelled the organisation.

The public hearings concluded today in Windhoek, and the committee said they would continue with consultations in the regions.

Justicia Shipena

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