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She became pregnant when she was only 14 years old and the father of the child not only refused to assume paternity but also tried to force the girl to have an abortion. Today, at age 18, Estefânia is an activist against early pregnancy.
Adolescent pregnancy is a persistent problem in Niassa, the province in northern Mozambique. But there are those who see their life experience as an asset in search of a solution. Such is the case of a young woman from the district of Mecanhelas who became an ambassador for her community in the fight against early pregnancy
Estefânia Alberto was 15 when she became pregnant. At the time, in 2005, she was in 9th grade. As a result of cultural pressure, she was forced to leave school to care for her child.
Today, at the age of 18, she is in 12th grade at Mecanhelas Secondary School in Niassa province. But it was not easy to convince her to go back to school. She relied on the psycho-social support of a women’s association that promotes education among the young people of Mecanhelas.
Got pregnant at 14
“Truthfully, I was naughty – I still regret it. In 2014, when I was 14 years old and in 8th grade, my mother used to tell me to stop playing with the boys and to continue with my studies so I could help my family in future. My mother tried beating me, but nothing changed.”
Estefânia recalls with sadness the lack of support from her son’s father, who refused to accept his responsibility.
“My friends went looking for abortion pills for me, and I sat and reflected on the matter a lot, because I would have to give up my studies. The man who got me pregnant did not want to take responsibility and threatened to beat me if I filed a complaint against him.”
This is not an unusual case in Mecanhelas, or even in Mozambique. According to UNICEF, early pregnancy continues to affect many girls in Mozambique and is the most common cause of early marriage. United Nations Children’s Agency figures reveal that more than 40% of Mozambican women have their first child before the age of 18.
And Mozambique’s Ministry of Education and Human Development estimates that around 3,000 adolescents under 18 years of age dropped out of school in 2017 because they were pregnant.
Raise awareness about early pregnancy in communities
Virgínia Cardoso, a representative of the Association for the Promotion of Women in Mecanhelas, which fights for gender equality in the Niassa region, says that it has not been easy to change the behaviour of young women especially.
“We raise awareness in the community, as well as among girls and mothers. For example, the mother of this girl came to us for help because she would not listen to her advice. We called the girl and began to work on her awareness of essentials, but she did not listen to us either. But we didn’t give up on her, and today she is in 12th grade,” Virgínia explains.
Today, Estefânia Alberto lives with her husband, the legitimate father of the baby, as the result of a complaint by the women’s association. Estefânia decided to share her life experience to prevent other girls experiencing the same difficulties as her. She is an activist in the Association for the Promotion of Women and visits young people in schools and in their homes to pass on a simple message: keep up your studies.