Eastern Province Permanent Secretary Chanda Kasolo says there is need to find a way of defeating the ancient traditional culture that usually leads to young people getting involved in early sexual practices.

Speaking when he featured on Hot FM’s Frank on Hot programme, Tuesday, Kasolo described the statistics of over 24,731 young girls who got pregnant in Eastern Province last year alone as a disgrace.

“Unfortunately, I am presiding over a province that has the bad statistics. It’s a disagrace! Chadiza got 1,419 (pregnancies); Chipata broke the record; it had 6,360, then Katete had 2,675; Lundazi had 4,898. Mambwe, 1,198; Nyimba had 1,481; Petauke had another high figure of 3,792; Sinda had 2,355 and Vumbwi came in with the lowest figure of 560. The actual total is 24,731 pregnancies. And these range from ages of 12 to 20, but primarily between 12 and 16, which is a worrying factor. Now, these statistics were what we captured using the Ministry of Health and also the Ministry of Education. However, I believe there are still a lot more that we didn’t capture particularly in the very rural areas and some cases where the parents hide. They don’t want to come out in the open about the statistics…Whatever the numbers are, I would call it 30,000, and it is really disgusting,” Kasolo lamented.

He, however, applauded some traditional leaders who were working selflessly to ensure that young girls were kept in school.

“We need to do something, we need to find a way of defeating ancient cultures that we have, which are the primary cause. If I tell you, there is amongst the Chewas a tradition where when a girl child comes of age, they find a man who goes to prove that she has come of age. He sleeps with her, it’s unbelievable! However, our traditional leaders are following behind us and very recently, His Majesty Kalonga Gawa Undi came out in the open and actually condemned this practice, it’s called ‘Fisi’, which translates to hyena or Chimbwi. That’s this thing of getting somebody to test the newly-matured girl child. So, he (Kalonga Gawa Undi) came out very strongly against it and said in his Kingdom, he does not want anybody to practice this. So, at least, we are starting to win. If you get traditional leaders behind you, you know that you have the chance to change the traditions,” Kasolo explained.

“There are two other champions I must mention, there is chieftainess Kawaza, a Chewa chief, she’s a champion of the girl child and the leading champion of the girl child is Chief Madzimawe of the Ngoni’s. He’s even got a centre, he has built at his own cost. He even grabs little children that are married off, he goes and gets the young, come to keep her and put her back into school as one of the measures and we as government we are really pushing behind him to help him.”

And gender activist Saboi Imboela also disagreed with some of the traditional practices that were exposing young girls to sexual activities.

“Apart from the traditional things that the PS has talked about, there is another thing, which we see normally in rural areas where when children become of age, they give them separate houses. In town, you find that everybody is in one house, but the village setup the way it is, everybody is in their small little huts. So, you will find that seven and eight-year-old girls are being put in separate houses and they are one their own and men go into those houses without parents even knowing. So, this is one thing we’ve been telling people in the villages to say, can you start building bigger houses where everybody is under one roof? But you know how the mindset is, they even say: ‘but where are we going to get the money from? It’s too expensive’, and yet they can use the same material they use to build the separate house. Just build one big house because it’s even more expensive when the houses are separate. But if you are going to have one, you are reducing on the corners in terms of the material that you are going to use. I am happy that in some places they have started to do what we are advising them to do. So, these are some of the things that we are trying to change,” said Imboela.

Meanwhile, UK-based children rights activist Inutu Lubinda also featured on the same programme and regretted that children who got pregnant at a tender age were usually victimized.

“Psychologically, the children who get pregnant at a very young age become marginalized. No one wants to be around you, you become isolated and lose your confidence; there is nothing else you can do, not even going back into education because you’ve already lost that confidence. So, what are going to do?” wondered Lubinda.