We know that Mothers’ Day can be incredibly hard for some but hope that you will be able to join us in celebrating the courage of teen mums in Zimbabwe this Mothers’ Day (27th March)! However this day is for you, we hope that you will be inspired by their resilience and dreams for the future.
Did you know that in 1 in 4 adolescent girls become mothers before the age of 18 in Zimbabwe? These numbers soared during the Covid-19 pandemic, with many girls being sexually abused by older men, engaging in transactional sex to survive, or unable to access sexual and reproductive health knowledge and services. Between January and February 2021, almost 5,000 teenage pregnancies were recorded in Zimbabwe by the Ministry for Women’s Affairs, a number that is believed to be a large underestimate of the reality.
These numbers may seem too large to take in, but behind every number is a young girl and her baby, both, fearfully and wonderfully made. In 2021, acet UK and The Nehemiah Project launched the Shining Star Teen Mum Project in Zimbabwe, which helps vulnerable teen mums in Zimbabwe to be independent so they are not forced to resort to sex work. 2021 was an amazing launch year, with these girls receiving tailored education on positive parenting, sexual and reproductive health, and goal setting.
“Before getting pregnant I had hope that I would become someone in life, but after getting pregnant all the hope I had vanished.” Kutunda* name changed for privacy reasons.
Before her pregnancy, Kutunda was excited about the future and the opportunities to explore what she wanted to do in life. However, isolated from her peers at school and uncertain about her future, she became depressed and withdrawn. These challenges were compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, as just as we were under lockdown in the UK for large parts of 2021 and 2022, restrictions in Zimbabwe made it harder for her to visit family and friends for emotional support.
“My relationship with my parents became very shaky once they found out I was pregnant. They reminded me each day of how much of a disappointment I was to the family.”
Not only do girls like Kutunda face the distress of dropping out of school and feeling anxious about how they will care for their baby, but many also face rejection from their families because of the cultural stigma and shame associated with unmarried mothers.
Imagine living in poverty and having to support a baby with an incomplete education, few marketable skills, and little financial or emotional support from your family. Tragically, these young mothers are all too often forced to sell their bodies for as little as $1 in order to provide basic needs for themselves and their babies.
Empisa Nare, Director of the Shining Star Project, which supports girls and women to leave sex work, has seen this happen time and time again. Faced with the reality of the trauma and abuse experienced by young teen mums forced into sex work, Empisa and the team designed the Teen Mum Project to prevent this. The girls take part in empowerment workshops and livelihood support that will enable them to flourish and be financially independent.
When Kutunda was at her lowest point, she was visited by Thembi, the Shining Star Project Officer, and invited to join the teen mum training and workshops. Through building friendships with other girls in the same situation and learning more about positive parenting and healthy relationships, she began to feel less alone.
“My favourite thing about coming to the teen mum project is the warm welcome we receive in this place and the friends I have made with other girls like me. I love the parenting workshops. I learnt that it is important to plan for my child’s future and work hard so they are well fed and clothed.
The project has helped me realise that my dreams are valid and I can be anything if I work hard. I have chosen to go back to school and complete my education. I have also acquired a skill that helps me to generate income and take care of myself and the baby.
If I hadn’t connected with the project, I could still be home wallowing in depression with a child. I don’t know if I would still be alive or I would have resorted to substance abuse. I would have been a directionless school dropout. I am glad Nehemiah Project reached out to me.”
We are very proud of Kutunda and her friends for choosing to challenge the cultural expectations of teenage mothers and seizing the opportunity to create a brighter future for themselves and their children. Excitingly, the Shining Star team is currently inviting a new cohort of girls to join the Teen Mum Project in 2022. We are delighted that some of the first cohort will be able to act as role models and show them that motherhood doesn’t mean the end of their dreams!
Just as the teen mums have been breaking stereotypes about family and creating their own paths, why not check your own stereotypes of motherhood in your own life? Here’s to all types of mums this Mothers’ Day: the foster mums, the step mums, those who gave birth, those who are no longer here, the solo mums, those yearning to be mums, and the mums to be.