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Fighting teen pregnancies



QUTHING – Boring!

That’s how some students at some schools reacted to the introduction of the Lifeskills Based Sexuality Education (LBSE) subject in 2013.

Recently, thepost visited some of the schools in the company of the LBSE advocacy partner, Help Lesotho, to find out if attitudes towards the subject have changed over the years.

At ’Maseribane High School and Holy Trinity it appears the children’s attitude towards the subject has totally changed.

Thanks to Help Lesotho, the introduction of clubs at five schools through the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the LBSE is bearing fruits in schools in Quthing.

Cases of Early and Unintended Pregnancies (EUP) have dropped, while students are relating well to the subject and feel it is changing their lives for the better.

Tšepiso (whose real name will not be mentioned to protect her identity), a Grade 11 student at ’Maseribane High School, said she has been doing the subject since Grade Eight.

“It was only last year when clubs were introduced that I found it enjoyable,” Tšepiso said.

“I previously only attended it for grades and I was uncomfortable to open up to my teachers and classmates about sexual intercourse, afraid that they would say I was sexually active,” she said.

The 17-year-old Tšepiso confided to thepost that she is actually sexually active and uses contraceptives to avoid pregnancy.

She however declined to talk about the kind of contraceptives she uses.

“Most of us teenagers fail to abstain so we were taught about ways to protect ourselves such as contraceptives usage,” she said.

They were also introduced to other forms of sex acts that do not require penetration.

She called on her peers to join the clubs as they are crucial in giving out correct information that teenagers are in dire need of to make informed decisions.

She further appealed to life skills teachers to employ methods used by peer educators to effectively get the attention of teenagers.

“They should be honest with us and give us direct information instead of using words that hide real meanings because that makes us lose the moral of the topic,” she said.

“They are still old school and they have to work on that to ease their job.”

She said she shares the knowledge she gains from the club with her classmates when she sees that their teacher is afraid or is hesitant to talk about the issues.

“My classmates sometimes laugh but that doesn’t bother me because what I say is correct and will help them at some point in their lives. It hurts to see my schoolmates getting pregnant, hence I made it my job to teach others.”

Lerato, 14, of Holy Trinity described the subject as “life-changing”.

“Before joining the club, I didn’t relate with the subject and I lacked confidence. I didn’t make the right choices as my friends literally made choices for me,” Lerato said.

She said she got attached to the abstinence topic because she watched in pain as her peers got pregnant at a young age.

“But with abstinence, I now know how to dodge the pregnancy bullet,” she said.

“I wish we could all join the club as our peer educators are very friendly to us. We are able to open up with them unlike with our teachers as they are old fashioned.”

’Maseribane High School’s Life Skills-Based Sexuality Education teacher, ’Mamotlatsi Mpasi, said she was assigned to teach the subject without any training.

Mpasi, who is also a Sesotho and English teacher, said “most activities are learner centered and needed an experienced teacher”.

“Sometimes it gets tricky when I am not familiar with the content. It’s an open discussion that needs me to think on my feet,” she said.

Holy Trinity LBSE Teacher, Mokoebetane Pomela, said “it isn’t easy” to teach the subject as some children laugh while others express shock when he delivers the content.

“I wasn’t sure what their reaction meant but now there is a huge difference as they understand the subject and relate to real life situations and examples,” Pomela said.

However, he shared similar sentiments about lack of resources to teach the subject.

“As a teacher I have to find ways to teach children without up to date teaching aides, although it seems to be working as EUP (Early and Unwanted Pregnancies) cases are no longer as prevalent.”

’Maseribane High School Deputy Principal, Motonosi Tikoane, said the introduction of LBSE has brought positive change amongst students.

“We had a high pregnancy rate and after its introduction in 2019 we saw a drastic change. We had over 30 learners pregnant around 2017 and this year we only have one,” Tikoane said.

He said street vendors, taxi drivers and conductors contributed to children’s pregnancies as they target school children for sex.

He said some teachers were trained even though it was late but “it’s better than nothing”.

“We don’t have a perfect teacher regarding the subject as they too learn along with children.”

The school has 650 pupils and 37 teachers and only five of them were trained to teach the subject.

“However, boys’ approach towards girls has changed for the better after the introduction of the subject as they no longer beat girls,” he said.

Sexuality education is explained by officials as the provision of scientifically accurate, culturally and age appropriate knowledge and skills relating to children’s healthy development and their sexuality.

Sexuality is said to be much more than sexual intercourse as it is about one’s body image, gender, biological changes, relationships and include all the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of males and females.

Themes across the curriculum for skills development and change of behaviour are: knowing one-self and living with others, human rights and child protection, gender norms and equality, sexual and reproductive health, HIV & AIDS, STIs and drug and alcohol abuse.

The main challenges that led to the introduction of LBSE were EUP, child marriage and new HIV infections.

In Lesotho, the incidences of child marriages stand at 24 percent, according to the 2016 Lesotho Census report.

Six out of ten girls aged between 15 and 19 years are mothers or pregnant with their first child, according to the UNFPA’s 2021 report.

According to a 2017 UNESCO report, Lesotho is among countries with high rates of early and unintended pregnancies. The report shows that 60 percent of girls between 15 and 19-years are mothers or pregnant with their first children.

In 2017, UNESCO conducted an assessment that revealed that 12 to14-year-olds are initiating sexual activities.

Data from School Report Cards (SCR) collected from schools participating in the School Improvement Project (SIP) indicates that pregnancy and early marriage are the number one reason for girls dropping out of secondary school at 46.7 percent in 2018 and 45.7 percent in 2019.

The adolescent birth rate in Lesotho is reported to be high at 94 per 1 000 girls aged 15-19, according to the UNFPA’s 2003-2018 study.

According to the Lephia 2020 statistics, 80 percent of new infections are recorded among young women aged 15-34 and the largest number of new infections (29 percent) occur among women who had never married.

Uncircumcised men who never married contributed 26 percent of new infections, while 13.5 percent of new infections occurred among couples with a male partner of positive status.

Stakeholders say contributing factors are poverty and vulnerability, peer pressure and lack of correct knowledge about sexuality issues.

It has also been discovered that myths, misconceptions and misinformation lead them into unacceptable behaviour.

Most adolescents, SIP discovered, lacked refusal skills, self-value, confidence, peer pressure resistance and decision making, need for belonging, forced marriages and intergenerational relationships to mention a few.

Masoabisa Monaheng of Help Lesotho said the EUP project started in 2020 but it was fully implemented in 2021 partnering with five schools: Holy Trinity, Sebapala, Masitise, Mopeli and ‘Maseribane high schools.

“Research by the Ministry of Education and Training showed that Quthing had high cases of teenage pregnancy therefore, we wanted to change that for children to fully reach their potential,” Monaheng said.

“The clubs have been well received by pupils as they freely open up to their peer educators as they relate well with their problem,” she said.

“We have noticed that club members are able to make informed decisions especially when it comes to peer pressure.”

An Education Inspector in Quthing, Lebohang Kala, said when the subject was first introduced in schools, it was challenging as there were no teachers for it.

“It is still a challenge even now as the subject is a taboo…teachers are still afraid to discuss the subject with children,” Kala said.

“Fortunately, with the help of UNFPA and Help Lesotho, training (programmes) were done on this subject’s content for teachers to be able to deal with behavioural change without imposing their values on pupils,” he said, adding: “It is still a challenge but I see light at the end of the tunnel.”

“We still have challenges but there is a slight difference especially in Mount-Moorosi, ’Maseribane High School.”

The Ministry of Health’s Adolescent Health Programme Manager, ’Mathato Nkuatsana, said the ministry has a comprehensive sex education curriculum which it runs in schools countrywide.

Nkuatsana said the ministry also has adolescent health corners at district level that offer friendly services to adolescents without being judgmental.

Nkuatsana said the ministry ensures that their services are multi-sectoral because there are so many contributing factors that lead to teenage pregnancy.

Help Lesotho is a non-profit organisation registered in both Canada and Lesotho that delivers grassroots mental health support and training programmes in rural communities in Lesotho to deal with AIDS, poverty, unemployment and gender-inequity.

’Mapule Motsopa

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