By Octávio Rui Pedro
Joana*, 15, used to dream of becoming a teacher. But, after schools were closed in March, she quickly became pregnant with her 23-year-old boyfriend, Chifuniro. Chifurino and Joana live in the Angonia district of central Mozambique, and since getting pregnant have moved in together. The prospect of Joana going back to school has faded away.
Joana is in grade 8 at school and was doing very well before the closures in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now pregnant, her future is blurry and no longer seems as bright as she once dreamed. Now all Joana can see for her future is becoming a wife and mother.
Although Joana would like to go back to school when they are open, she doubts that it will be possible. “Everything seems to be lost now. I want to go back to school but I don’t see how. Besides, I doubt my partner will allow me to go back,” Joana says.
The Mozambican Ministry of Education recently revoked its hardline 2003 guidance which ordered all pregnant schoolgirls to attend night classes and banned them from day classes. However, the social stigma of being a teen mother is still an ongoing challenge Joana will have to face. “I am also ashamed of going back to school, because I’m sure my classmates will call me names because of my age and situation,” she adds sadly.
“The first two months [of pregnancy] were the most difficult of my life,” Joana says with a timid voice. “I often feel weak for the past two months as it’s a new experience for me,” she adds.
Married off at 15
Due to her early pregnancy, Joana and Chifuniro had a traditional marriage in June 2020, after Joana turned 15. “When we discovered that she was pregnant our entire life fell apart,” Joana’s mother, Maria, explains. “We got very upset and decided to take her to her boyfriend’s home across the road.”
In a few scant months Joana’s life has altered course and she has become part of the statistics of teenage pregnancies and child marriages in Mozambique. According to UNICEF, the country “has one of the highest rates and most severe crises of child marriage in the world, with almost half of girls marrying before 18, and 1 in 10 before their fifteenth birthday especially in rural areas.”
World Vision has been working with local authorities in Mozambique and other partners to discourage sexual abuse, early marriage and all kinds of children’s violence, but there is still much to do.
In our report: COVID-19 AFTERSHOCKS: ACCESS DENIED, we look at how Teenage pregnancy threatens to block one million girls, like Joana, from returning to school in Sub-Saharan Africa.
*Names have been changed to protect children’s identities