Peer guidance, health services and life-skills offer fresh hope for adolescents

22-year-old Karen Banda's life changing story in Zambia

Simon Ingram, UNICEF Communications Consultant
22 August 2019

“I want my baby to have a different life from me,” declares 22-year-old Karen Banda, pausing to give a warm hug to Mavis, the shy two-year-old in her arms.

“I will try by all means for Mavis to go to school and complete her education, at least so that she can take care of herself when she grows up,” Ms Banda adds.

Here in Kafue District, as in much of rural Zambia, poverty, frustration and a lack of opportunities make life hard for many young people.

For young women like Ms Banda, the reality of unplanned pregnancy is an additional reality to deal with.

“I got into a relationship with someone but it wasn’t my intention to have a baby at that age,” Ms Banda says. “It was just because of a lack of money. I lacked money for going back to school.”

After she became pregnant, Ms Banda’s partner left her to cope alone. It was only when she joined the local youth group, supported by the European Union-funded MDGi programme, that her life began to have a new sense of direction.

“I joined the youth group a year ago because I wanted to get good lessons for youth life,” she says. “The group is really helping me because we learn about everything -- about AIDS, about how to avoid being involved with “sugar daddies” and how to start a small business.”

According to Margaret Kasanga, the youth group’s senior peer educator, experiences like Ms Banda’s make her a powerful advocate among teenage girls. Adolescents make up around a quarter of Kafue’s 166,000 population, and teenage pregnancy is a widespread phenomenon.

“We do health education for them. We tell them about the dangers of early pregnancies,” says Ms Kasanga. “And if they have delivered they still have a chance to go back to school. Education is the only key to success.”

Statistics suggest the work being done in Kafue to provide adolescents with improved information and services related to their sexual, reproductive and general health is achieving results. In four sampled schools in Kafue, teenage pregnancies fell from 120 in 2014 to 24 in in 2018.

More broadly, by late 2018, data from Lusaka and Copperbelt provinces suggested a fall in teenage pregnancies as measured by the proportion of pregnant women under 18 booking their first antenatal visit.