Take Five with Dr. Chrissie Thakwalakwa

March 8, 2022

Dr. Chrissie Kantukule is the Deputy Director for the Centre for Social Research. She has expertise in designing and implementing nutrition intervention trials as well as health-related projects and studies.

Currently, she is part of the team at CSR #breakingthebias by working with APHRC on two studies targeting pregnant and parenting adolescents in Malawi, namely Challenging the Politics of Social Exclusion (CPSE) and PROMOTE.

  • Why are you so passionate about PPAs?

According to the 2018 National Housing and Population Census, the median age of Malawi’s population is 17. This implies that Malawi has a youthful population, and this constitutes a great asset for the country. The adolescents as well as the youths, if properly nurtured, have a huge potential to reach their goals while effectively contributing to national socio-economic development. However, there are many challenges that adolescents and youth experience. These include alcohol and drug abuse, HIV, child marriage, child labor, the lack of employment opportunities and challenges in accessing education. These challenges threaten their individual development as well as the contributions that the adolescents and the youth can make towards national development.

Pregnant and parenting adolescents (PPAs), however, have more challenges than their peers because they are still young and inexperienced. On top of that, they have this very big responsibility on them. They require proper management from all stakeholders (family, community, school, NGOs, Government ministries and departments as well as policymakers) otherwise some of them turn to many more self-destructing practices.

  • What are some of the things that stood out for you as part of the study?

The problem of PPAs in Malawi is much bigger than we thought.

It is an urgent matter that requires more stakeholder involvement if the lives of PPAs are to be improved. At the time of our scoping review for the CPSE project, about two-thirds of the PPAs were still in school at the time of the pregnancy, 70% of which were unintended pregnancies.

There is a need for immediate intervention to protect the youth from these high levels of unintended pregnancies. This could be through enhancing sex education in schools, and offering civic education on the dangers of early pregnancy and child marriage.

Following the different experiences the PPAs go through during pregnancy, childbearing as well as childcare, about 40% of the PPAs develop some form of depression a lot of which is not managed properly. This is also an area that needs immediate intervention to recover the young ones. The PPAs need psychosocial support to help them go through their experiences but still manage to reach their goals despite their experiences.

At the same time about three-quarters of the PPAs expressed that they would like to go back to school if some interventions are put in place to support them and their children.

  • Based on your findings, what are some of yours/ CSR’s asks of policymakers?

Policymakers need to enhance their enforcement of the different regulations in place, especially those that target adolescents and the youth. They should make sure that implementation and monitoring of these policies is taking place accordingly at all levels. In addition to this, policies need to be harmonized at all levels for easy implementation as well as to avoid confusion by stakeholders.

Government ministries need to strengthen their involvement in setting up programs to support PPAs as well as to monitor the progress of such. For example, the Ministry of Gender should consider establishing additional Community-Based Child Care (CBCC) centers in more communities across the country for easy access by PPAs and their children.

There is a need to improve the country’s coordination, collaboration and networking amongst stakeholders that deal with PPAs, the adolescents and the youths. For youth-focused programs to be successful, the youth, adolescents, and PPAs should also be involved in every step from planning and implementation to monitoring and evaluation.

  • Malawi is among the countries with the highest adolescent fertility rates. In your opinion, what are some of the low-cost, scalable interventions that can be implemented to reduce these figures?

Adolescence is a period when the youth are actively involved in so many things including sexual activities. However, they are mostly not knowledgeable of the effects of their decisions and actions. Enhancement of civic education on the dangers of engaging themselves in sexual activities at a tender age would assist in helping the adolescents and the youth make better decisions. Stakeholders should involve the youth, including the PPAs, in planning their programs or activities if the youths and PPAs are to benefit. In addition, these adolescents need to actively take part in the development of youth-related policies and programs in order to gain knowledge and internalize the policies.

  • Lastly, how does your research seek to ensure every girl, every woman’s voice counts?

 “Nothing for us without us”.

With that in mind, we engaged PPAs through interviews to explore the challenges, gaps, and prospects, both in policy and practice, in addressing the social exclusion of PPAs. As a follow-up, we conducted a district workshop where the study findings were shared with the PPAs in order to get their feedback on whether the results were a true reflection of their experiences or not. In addition to the PPA workshop at the district level, we conducted another workshop at the national level with different stakeholders including PPAs, program implementers, and the policymakers. This process was arranged to make sure what the PPAs shared with us is heard at a higher level in a bid to influence policy and programming that would be effective for PPAs as well as the young adolescent woman out there!