Jenny Tillyard addresses the issue of unwanted pregnancy and a ‘demographic disaster’ in Africa, while Judith A Daniels says the church needs to legitimise women’s much-needed accession to leadership rolesCherie Blair was right to mention the problem of forced pregnancy among young schoolgirls in Africa (Cherie Blair accused of reinforcing stereotypes about African women, 27 March). She was speaking at a Catholic school, and Catholics are currently struggling with the whole problem of unwanted pregnancy and women’s (and men’s) rights.

In traditional societies in Africa, a girl’s reproductive capacity was “owned” by her birth family, and there were recognised customs to enforce damages for “seduction”, which to some extent protected young girls. These protections have vanished with modernity, and organisations such as Cafod can provide in-depth information about the attrition of girls in school past puberty, which puts a question mark over every attempt at social development (we are talking about girls as young as 11). Of course African leaders, including bishops, would rather not talk about this. But a demographic disaster is unfolding in southern Africa, and silencing talk about it will not make it go away.
Jenny Tillyard
(Lived 30 years in Zimbabwe), Seaford, East Sussex

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