At 23 years, Mailes Mbewe is a trained medical officer specializing in clinical medicine. And she is also the mother of a seven-year-old boy.
This makes one wonder how a young woman like Mbewe managed to accomplish her educational goals despite falling pregnant and consequently becoming a mother at a young age.
Mbewe is among a growing number of young women and girls in Zambia that have and continue to benefit from the country’s re-entry policy, which ensures that high school girls that fall pregnant go back to school after giving birth.
The aim of the policy is to implement measures that help prevent the exclusion of these young mothers from furthering their studies.
Prior to the introduction of the re-entry policy, girls who fell pregnant had challenges getting back in school as they suffered great discrimination in their communities. This compelled many of them to drop out of school completely and get married at an early age.
But because of the policy, today, an increasing number of girls that fall pregnant while in school go back within a year of giving birth. The policy guidelines also provide that pregnant girls attend the class for as long as they are able to do so.
Many have expressed happiness at the existence of the re-entry policy, noting that it is one sure way of improving the overall wellbeing of women and girls.
According to Judith Mweemba, the mother of a pregnant 17-year-old schoolgirl Silanga Mwampamba, allowing girls to continue with school is key to ending the vicious circle of poverty that many girls are caught up in through early marriages.
“I am ready to look after my grandchild and allow my daughter to continue with school so that she can realize her potential. There is more that she can contribute to society as an educated individual,” said Mweemba, a resident of Bundabunda area in rural Lusaka.
And Zambian educationalist Victoria Kapya asserted that more communities are becoming aware of the re-entry policy and are making sure that girls stay in school.
Kapya noted many parents, teachers and guardians as well as community leaders are now working to ensure that the policy is implemented and providing all the necessary support to pregnant school girls so that they can readmitted in school.
Participants in focus group discussions consisting of high school students and community members as well as individuals that were interviewed also shared Kapya’s sentiments.
The respondents said the policy is helpful in that it is instrumental in reducing illiteracy levels in the country particularly in rural and remote places of Zambia and is an opportunity to advance gender equality.
“The more educated women there are the fewer incidences of gender-based violence there will be. Education is the key to ending many acts of violence that women and girls face on a daily basis,” said Alice Chulu, a student at Chifwankula Secondary School located in Chibombo district, central Zambia.