Funmi Ogundare writes on the need for collaboration to reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancy through appropriate sex education in schools, having family sizes one can care for, proper prosecution of child molesters, improving access to contraceptives, not stigmatising and discriminating against the pregnant girls, as well as ensuring a favourable economic policy that will favour them in the long run
Miss Blessing Samuel, 18 was a student of Ojoku High School, Tolu, Ajegunle. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she started dating a fellow student in the same school who was a year her senior. Consequently during the closure of schools by the Lagos State government, they decided to take their relationship to the next level by having sex. The boy who was at that time planning to sit for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), was also an apprentice mechanic. From the little money he collects from his boss for feeding, he saves up to pay for cheap hotel accommodation for himself and Blessing to meet in Ajegunle to have sex. This they were doing until she became pregnant.
By the time she informed her lover that she had taken in, he denied it and subsequently traveled out of town.
Sad about the development, Blessing who is the second of a family of five, with a widowed mother to cater for her needs and those of her siblings, decided to meet the parents of the boy to break the good news.
Unfortunately, they told her that he had travelled out of town and that they were not informed about the pregnancy. They said she has to come back and see them when the boy returns from his trip.
When this reporter met her on the issue, Blessing told THISDAY that, “initially, I didn’t know I was pregnant because I have a big tummy, and I was still menstruating. It was when I was almost four months gone that I found out. I told my boyfriend about it, but he rejected the pregnancy, travelled out of town and never told me when he would be back.”
Asked about her plans when she puts to bed, Blessing who is already eight months gone in her pregnancy said: “I am no longer interested in going to school, I want to learn a skill in tailoring.”
Miss Aminat Thomas, 15, was a student of Sinclair High School, Ajeromi Ifelodun. She was in SS one as a science student, but never paid much attention to her academics. Her teachers even made efforts to persuade her to be serious with her studies, but their efforts were futile, so Aminat was forced to drop out of school to learn a skill as an apprentice in a hair dressing salon.
It was while learning the skill that she met a man who told her he was interested in being her lover. Not long after, they started having sex and she became pregnant.
One month after, she discovered that she had missed her period and decided to inform her mother, Mrs. Thomas about it. Unfortunately, she would not hear any of it, but instead threw her daugther out of the house to meet the man who impregnated her. Aminat, who is now six months pregnant, told this reporter that she has been forced to live with her “in-laws” as their responsibility and that taking care of herself and buying the necessary baby materials in preparation for child birth is a challenge.
Blessing and Aminat are not alone in this predicament, as so many teenage girls have fallen pregnant during this COVID-19 period due to assault, lack of parental care, lack of self control and lack of sex education, low level of contraceptive use, poverty, among others.
Investigations by THISDAY revealed that girls from poor communities have a high likehood of getting pregnant and because they are not enlightened, they are forced to drop out of school, are unlikely to be well cared for, leading to problems like systemic infections and anaemia in pregnancy.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every year, an estimated 21 million girls aged 15 to 19 years in developing regions become pregnant and approximately 12 million of them give birth. At least 777,000 births occur to adolescent girls younger than 15 years in developing countries, while 10 million unintended pregnancies occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 years in the developing world.
Most of the pregnancies according to the WHO are unplanned for and/or unwanted and the girls are immature both physically and psychologically. Teenage pregnancy affects the academic performance of adolescents as it could lead to lack of involvement at school and drop out of school, and the children of teenage mothers are likely to be at greater risk of low intellectual mothers and academic achievements. It also hampers the further education of female adolescents, threatens their career, future economic prospects and consequently earning capacity and overall wellbeing.
According to a Demographic and Health Survey 2013 report in Nigeria, an estimated 23 per cent of women aged 15 to 19 years have begun child bearing, of which 17 per cent have had their first child and five per cent are pregnant with their first child. Also, 32 per cent of teenagers in rural areas have begun child bearing as opposed to 10 per cent in the urban areas of Nigeria. The report shows the disparities within the geopolitical zones as follows: north-west (36 per cent), north-east (32 per cent), north-central (19 per cent), south-central (12 per cent), south-east (8 per cent) and south-west (8 per cent).
This statistics reveal a direct relationship between level of education and rate of early pregnancy.
Dr. Alexandra Adeyemi is a physician working with young people in a school health setting. She told THISDAY the social and economic consequences of teenage pregnancy, saying that girls who get pregnant in most cases have either dropped out of school or delayed their education.
“Even when they return, they are often a subject of ridicule among their peers and family members. Pregnant adolescents also suffer rejection or violence by family members. These may lead them to suffer mental health illness like depression, anxiety and poor self-esteem in some instances, these mothers may have to either fend for themselves and their babies or get some means of contributing to the family income. This will further predispose them to more problems like exposure to sexual predators or having exchange sexual favours for their needs,” she said.
She emphasised the importance of sex appropriate education in schools, having family sizes one can care for and proper prosecution of child molesters, improving access to contraceptives and removing stigma and discrimination in providing family planning services to teenagers, noting that these will help in reducing the incidence of teenage pregnancies.
“Improved and favourable economic policies will also help in cases where parents are forced to give out their daughters in exchange for money or other benefits,” she added.
Mrs. Anuoluwapo Omotayo is the Head, Counselling Unit, Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Governent Education Authority (LGEA), Awodi-Ora. She expressed concern that many girls got pregnant during this COVID-19 period, saying that rather than persecute such girls or shut them down, their parents or guardians need to bring them close and counsel them.
She regretted that many counsellors have failed in this aspect when they see teenage pregnant girls by asking them irrelevant questions that may scare them away into either committing suicide or aborting the pregnancy.
“They ask them questions like: how did you get yourself into this? What type of clothes were you wearing? Did you ask for permission before you left the house? Among other questions that may make them to commit suicide or go for abortion.”
She said her office has been sensitising the girl-child about the need to comport themselves properly anywhere they find themselves, dressing properly and not to trust anybody no matter the closeness.
“During COVID-19, most families were fully at home so people got to know each other. Unfortunately, you see girls putting on bumshort at home and walking half naked in a compound where a large number of people live. This is quite unfortunate,” Omotayo stressed.
In order to influence positive change among pregnant teenage girls, some non-governmental organisations have signed a partnership deal to help, empower and mentor these girls in the area of education and reproductive health.
Miss Ganiat Giwa is the founder of the Ruby Health Foundation, founded this year with the aim of creating awareness about maternal mortality and sensitising the Nigerian community about health issues.
She told THISDAY that the foundation launched the Protect Our Girls (POP) initiative to combat maternal mortality and teenage pregnancy in the country, adding that it is currently working with under 20-year-old girls by giving them financial, emotional and basic assistance throughout their pregnancy.
“The idea is that once you remove the financial barrier confronting these girls, they would have a better chance of survival. A lot of girls are giving birth at home, but we can register them in a hospital and guide them through the process. With this, there is a higher chance of survival for them and the babies.”
She expressed concern about the high rate of teenage pregnancies, espcially this COVID-19 period, saying that rather than get stuck in their track and beg for means of survival, the foundation decided to patner a non-governmental organisation, Dream from the Slum to rekindle hope in the girls.
“One of the things we set out to do is that we ask the girls that ‘now that you are pregnant, what’s your plan? We give them options to choose from either to go back to school or learn a trade. You are not going to spend the rest of your life begging for your child to feed as that is not sustainable. You need to get back on track with your life. If you want to go back to school, we figure it out and if you want to go for skills training, we will help you get through that as well. But the idea ultimately, is to become self-sustaining.”
To parents who kick out their children as a result of unwanted pregnancy, she said, “they never kick out the boys. It’s double standard. We hold our women in high esteem in Nigeria, but once she makes a mistake, she is doomed. We see women bearing the joint consequences of actions all the time. These are girls, as a parent, you must take care of your child. For many of these girls, the psychological trauma, for being kicked out by everybody, is there.
“Rather than kicking out the girls, you should seek help. I don’t accept kicking out a child. Why would you kick out the girl to go and stay with the man who does not have a legal right over her?”
Giwa said as an organisation, the foundation can’t do it all, but plays its own little part to make a difference. “Our own is for the girls to have a healthy baby and get back on track with their lives.”
For those who have put to bed during this period and do not have anywhere to go to, she said her foundation has helped three of them by first evaluating their circumstance, making the best decision for their age and the baby using resources they have, adding that at the end of the day, they were able to reunite them with their parents.
Mr. Issac Omoyele is the founder of Dreams from the Slum. He told THISDAY that the organisation runs the Young Mothers Academy for teenage pregnant girls, adding that it has been empowering them through education and mentorship.
“We believe that everyone deserves a second chance to rewrite the outcomes of their lives. Through the academy, we have been able to rekindle hope in teenage mothers because we understand that most of them were taken advantage of, or rejected by the person who impregnated them and some were even raped. Most of them had made various mistakes and gotten pregnant.
“We believe they have a second chance and they can still become successful in any field they choose. We understand that we cannot do it alone and this is why we are very keen on partnering with other bodies that have a similar vision with this project. That was why we signed a partnership deal with Ruby Health Foundation. Through them, we were able to achieve our aim of giving the young mothers an opportunity to dream again and lead a purpose-driven life.”
For most of the girls who seem not to have any dream, Omoyele said, “it is a gradual process. What most of them desire now is acceptance and support and that is what we are doing. We are going to mentor them. We will be meeting with them every month and after they have given birth, we will bring them in to our young mothers academy.”
A parent, Mr. Olalekan Ilesanmi stressed the need for other parents to make it their duty to talk to their children (boys and girls) and guide them against having casual sex without protection, adding that the emphasis should also be made on the attendant implication of that.
“It is the responsibility of parents to talk to their boys and even the vulnerable girls, they shouldn’t wait until they get married, they should start guiding them against unprotected sex.
He said once they discover that their teenage daughter is pregnant, there is need for parents to take the babies from them and allow them to go back to school for better windows of opportunity.
“The girls have made a mistake, they alone should not be blamed, but the active boys. The boys may even deny the girls. It’s a misdemeanor. Parents should talk to their children about this issue and once wounds get healed, they will accept responsibility for the child.”