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Archive for May 24th, 2011

Sharing lodgings with their peers – unsupervised by adults – leading to teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDS infections

Posted by African Press International on May 24, 2011

ZAMBIA: The dangers of unsupervised school accommodation

Mabumba High School learners outside of their rented accommodation near Mansa, in Luapula Province, northern Zambia

MANSA,  – An absence of boarding facilities for high school pupils in Zambia’s northern province of Luapula is forcing children to share lodgings with their peers – unsupervised by adults – leading to teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDS infections.

Many children live a long way from school and prefer to rent accommodation nearby. Grade 12 pupil Dorcas, 17, stopped attending the Mabumba High day school, about 20km east of provincial capital Mansa, after becoming pregnant.

“We were staying the three of us [girls], then we started sharing the house with three guys and that is how we paired ourselves. We just wanted some form of emotional support; life is really tough out there. So, the whole of last year we were living together with the guys and would have [unprotected] sex almost every night but everything was OK,” she told IRIN.

“When I missed [my periods] early this year, I decided to go to Mansa General Hospital for a [pregnancy] test and the results were positive… I left school because everyone was laughing at me. They were saying ‘this one is a married woman’ after they knew [of my pregnancy].”

Mabumba High School enrols some of its 690 pupils from as far away as the capital Lusaka and about 500 of the children are responsible for their own accommodation arrangements.

“We couldn’t find a place in a proper boarding school in Luapula. Everywhere we went, we were told ‘the places are full’, and that’s how my mother decided to bring me here. She sends money every month for rentals, food and groceries,” Margaret Chanda, 16, a Grade 12 pupil from Ndola in the Copperbelt and attending Mabumba High School, told IRIN.

She shares a two-room grass-thatched hut with her friend and pays US$5 a month.

Wamunyima Chingumbe, a Health Ministry director in Mansa District, said the absence of boarding facilities at day schools had led to teenage pregnancies and made pupils vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). After malaria, STIs were the most common ailments recorded at makeshift boarding high schools.

Higher STI rates

“In terms of HIV/AIDS and other STIs, quazi-boarding schools record higher numbers of pupils with STIs compared to schools with [official] boarding facilities,” Chingumbe said.

''Mabumba High School once recorded 13 HIV-positive female cases and four HIV-positive male cases out of an enrolment population of about 600 pupils''

“Mabumba High School once recorded 13 HIV-positive female cases and four HIV-positive male cases out of an enrolment population of about 600 pupils,” Chingumbe said.

“On the other hand there are very few cases of HIV-positive/STI cases recorded [at official] boarding schools, and this could be attributed to the fact that pupils are confined in one place and dormitories are out of bounds for the opposite sex,” he said.
Government investment in universal primary education has not been matched in the high school sector, and the 2008 scrapping of qualifying examinations for Grade 10 has put more pressure on school facilities, with more and more pupils continuing their education. The province has 23 high schools, six of which are day schools.

Elizabeth Mushili, coordinator of the Mansa District Women’s Development Association, a gender-based advocacy group, wants the government to equip all schools with boarding facilities.

‘Free-range lifestyles’

“These children adopt confused, free-range lifestyles. We are of the view that government should have been more considerate and constructed dormitories for both girls and boys at these high schools. Or better still, they [government] should have built more day high schools to cut down on the distances [between the schools].

“Early pregnancies are very common because of lack of parental care; no one is looking after these children and, hence, they can do anything,” Mushili told IRIN.

“We have pupils, especially girls, who get abused by male adults for sexual exploitation; we have many children around 13, 14 years carrying their own children and dropping out of school in Mabumba and Chembe [another day high school in Mansa where children use makeshift accommodation],” she said.

Luapula is one of Zambia’s poorest provinces: it has a poverty level of 75 percent, compared with the national average of 64 percent. According to UNAIDS the national HIV prevalence for sexually active adults aged 15-49 is 14.3 percent.

“Many of us end up sending our children to these weekly-boarding schools like Mabumba because we have no money to send them to boarding schools. We are poor,” Joseph Mutale, a small farmer in Mansa, told IRIN.

“I give my son a tin of maize [for grinding into the staple maize meal] every month and 10,000 kwacha [US$2] to buy relish but he keeps on complaining about other things that I can’t afford to give him,” he said.

Pupils attending boarding high schools pay up to $300 for a three-month term, but day schools like Mabumba only charge $40 a term.


Zambian law classifies sex with anyone under 16 as defilement, and is punishable by a prison term of up to 25 years.

“We have many children below 16 years who are very sexually active. It is defilement [of a minor] but she will not see it that way. There are many defilement cases going on here; they are contracting many diseases especially STIs; some are falling pregnant,” a teacher at Mabumba High School, who preferred anonymity, told IRIN.

Luapula’s provincial education officer Florence Kanchebele told IRIN the government had begun constructing boarding facilities at two day schools – in Ponde and Lukwesa, and acknowledged the problems associated with learners renting accommodation close to schools. She said some pupils engaged in “what may be termed as ‘marriages of convenience’ with other pupils and sometimes, community members due to economic reasons”.

The school authorities were still responsible for their children outside school hours and landlords were “instructed to protect the pupils, report to the school any bad behaviour by such pupils, and sensitize the pupils on the dangers of HIV/AIDS, STIs and early pregnancies,” she added.

Ruth Mwewa, a landlord for several pupils from Mabumba High School in the past, told IRIN: “No teacher has ever approached me to talk about these pupils’ behaviour. Two of the girls I have kept here got pregnant and stopped school. The girls are especially a big problem because they are forever found with boys or married men who come with cars.”

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Kids are kids, they are the same everywhere

Posted by African Press International on May 24, 2011

LEBANON: Cameras for kids initiative in Palestinian refugee camps

There are around 425,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and 12 official camps (file photo)

BEIRUT, 18 May 2011 (IRIN) – A Beirut-based NGO is training children in Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps to take photographs of camp life in the belief that the exercise is cathartic for the children, will benefit the camps financially and lead some of the trainees to work professionally as photographers.

The idea of getting children to photograph camp life struck Ramzi Haidar after a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp, and led him to start the Zakira project.

“Kids are kids, they are the same everywhere,” he said. “They have the same needs, regardless of whether they are Iraqi, Palestinian, Lebanese or something else. And, if they go through war or other difficult experiences, they need to express what they have seen.”

Haidar believes suffering in the Palestinian camps is on a par with what he had seen in Iraq where children had to put up with things no child should, and without any creative or intellectual outlets to deal with them. “I started thinking about how to work with photography in order to express such experiences,” he told IRIN.

Through Zakira, hundreds of children now have the chance to do this through photography. The NGO has carried out two projects so far: `Lahza’, which means “glimpse” or “moment” in Arabic, and the sequel, ‘After Lahza’.

During `Lahza’, Zakira organized workshops in all of Lebanon’s Palestinian camps; 500 children were taught basic photography skills, given disposable cameras and asked to photograph camp life.

A selection of the pictures taken, capturing everything from the distinctive narrow alleys and grey concrete houses in the camps to family and friends, were published. The income generated, which goes back to the Palestinian community, has so far helped pay for a football field and the floor and mirrors of a `Debke’ (folk dance) studio in Lebanon’s largest camp, Ein el-Helweh.

The ‘After Lahza’ project uses photography as a means of expression and to bring people together. More than 250 teenagers – Lebanese and Palestinians – have gained advanced photography skills at three-month workshops in Beirut, Tripoli, Saida, Sur and Baalbek.

Economic opportunity

Zakira is also looking ahead: “What we hope to do next is to set up photo studios in Beirut, Tripoli, Saida, Sur and Baalbek’s camps,” said one of the founders, Rima Abushakra. “Many of the teenagers who we worked with during After Lahza are high school dropouts. They discovered that they have a talent for photography and now want to develop it and gain income from it.

“This is great, because in the camps, just like everywhere, there is a market for photographers,” she added. “People need photos for their ID cards, and when they get married and want wedding pictures.”

The workshops are an opportunity to improve photography skills, and build new relationships. The skills learnt also represent an economic opportunity in the camps: As a stateless community, the refugees have a tough time accessing education and employment.

“We saw many things in the youth we trained: Talent, determination, a quest for self-expression,” Abushakra said. “Many of them are now enthusiastic about working with photography.”

One trainee has had several of her pictures published in a Lebanese newspaper, and another has been assigned as an events photographer in his camp. The project has held exhibitions in Dublin, Athens, Washington and Paris.

Palestinians make up nearly 10 percent of Lebanon’s population of about 4.2 million, but live on the margins of society, according to observers. Despite having lived here since 1948, most still live in camps and face poverty, discrimination and social exclusion.


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Graduates demand access to government jobs

Posted by African Press International on May 24, 2011

SRI LANKA: Graduates in north demand government jobs

Graduates demand access to government jobs

JAFFNA, 13 May 2011 (IRIN) – Peace dividends have yet to reach thousands of unemployed graduates returning to Sri Lanka’s northernmost, conflict-affected Jaffna District.

In Jaffna, the impact of graduate unemployment is significant and more pronounced compared with other areas of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, with limited state employment opportunities and few alternatives, local graduates and professors say.

According to Muthukrishna Sarvananda, principal researcher at the Jaffna-based Point Pedro Institute of Development, a private social science research institution, the dearth of opportunities in an area once ravaged by war is taking its toll.

“It is an important aspect of developmental planning and the [unemployment] numbers are presumed to be large,” Sarvananda said.

Addressing this problem is important to prevent the disenfranchisement of youth, a contributing factor to the country’s 26-year civil war in the north that ended in May 2009, experts say, and will prove key to the country’s future peace and stability.

Some say the Sinhalese majority, mostly in central and south Sri Lanka, had long enjoyed better access to education and jobs than the Tamil minority, in the north.

Despite the war coming to an end and a consequent increase in the country’s economy and decrease in overall unemployment, graduates claim the divide continues, with rising unemployment and poverty in the Northern Province.

In Jaffna alone, 6,000 graduates are finding that state jobs are not available.

Post-war economic boom

According to the Department of Census and Statistics, the national unemployment rate was 4.5 percent in 2010. The government attributed this decrease, from 5.8 percent in 2009, to the post-war economic drive attracting foreign direct investment.

Yet, there is little reflection of this emerging prosperity in Jaffna, said the president of the Unemployed Graduates Committee, Thyagaraja Dhanam. “Nobody pays attention to our plight,” he said.

Unemployment statistics do not include Northern and Eastern provinces and a district breakdown is not available for the entire Northern Province. “The rate [in Jaffna] is expected to be more than double the national rate of unemployment,” Sarvananda said.

Sunil Navaratna, the Higher Education Ministry Secretary, told IRIN more than 400,000 students sit for university entrance each year, with only about 20,000 succeeding.

Photo: Dominic Sansoni/World Bank
The war ended in May 2009

He said every year at least 6,000 graduate and more than half join the unemployed, with 42,500 jobless graduates nationwide.

“This is despite schemes to absorb them. Of course the Northeast is worst affected as job creation is still low despite many initiatives,” he said.

Private sector doors closed

Jaffna’s graduates say they see a number of industries – private companies and banks – moving to their province, creating jobs that elude them.

“There aren’t many opportunities in the private sector. The practice is to bring employees from the south, excluding locals,” Muhunthan Sivayohanathan, an unemployed graduate, said.

However, according to one private business operator in Jaffna interviewed by IRIN, such graduates are “unemployable”, because they have no information technology skills and lack English proficiency.

Sarvananda agreed, saying universities needed to increase the calibre of both their staff and graduates. But he said perhaps a boom in private sector opportunities was imagined.

“There are small private companies coming in, but there are no strong corporate sector investments. The centralized system does not encourage it. The ongoing projects generating employment are all government-driven,” he said.

Government jobs, please

The young graduates feel it is the government’s role to absorb the unemployed into the public sector, but high expectations of government jobs will likely not be the answer.

Jaffna Government Agent Imelda Sukumar said young graduates fixated on public sector employment had to seek alternatives. “They demand government jobs. They should be open-minded about the private and non-governmental sectors that generate significant employment,” she said.

Be it public or private sector, graduate or not, there is a need to consider the whole picture, insists Saroja Sivachandran of the Jaffna-based Centre for Women’s Development.

“The Jaffna youth did not have opportunities to develop skills and pursued higher education despite serious difficulties. The state has a responsibility to devise special programmes post-war, to ensure they have opportunities for growth and suitable employment,” she said. Adding a new, inclusive recruitment policy should require a percentage of jobs go to local youth.

According to the Deputy Minister of Youth Affairs, Duminda Dissanayake, the government was mindful of the unique situation in the north.

“Through different divisions, skills development, vocational training and youth development we try to cater to this need,” he said.

dh/nb/ds/mw source

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