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Africa and the Malady of Teenage Pregnancy
Africa and the Malady of Teenage Pregnancy

By - Victor Kekereekun

Posted - 17-07-2019

Adolescence is a vulnerable phase in human development, it represents a transition from childhood to physical and psychological maturing which generally occurs during the period from puberty to legal adulthood.

The end of adolescence (teenage) and the beginning of adulthood varies by country; however, each nation has to take full cognisance of this sensitive phase of development. According World Health Organisation (WHO), those classified as teenagers fall between the ages of 10-19 years old.

Linda Adongo, pictured in Bongo Soe in the Upper East Region of Ghana on 23 July 2015, says she fell pregnant in grade 6 to a boyfriend in high school. She dropped out of school and gave birth to her daughter, Jennifer Adongo, who was born two months premature and is now two weeks old. The boy accepted responsibility for the pregnancy, and his parents support Linda with food and clothing for the baby. She says he has not made his long term intentions for marriage or otherwise clear. Linda says “it’s not fair” that she has had to drop out of school while the baby’s father has been able to continue his education.

Teenage pregnancy is a global issue that occurs in high, middle and low-income countries. The malady carries greater risks of adverse consequences as much as for young mothers as for the child. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), over the years the global adolescent birth rate has declined from 65 births per 1000 young women in 1990 to 47 births per 1000 women in 2015. Despite this over all progress, because of the increase in global population of adolescence, forecasts indicate that the number of adolescent pregnancies will increase globally by 2030. With such report, a continent makes the pace for others to follow, and the continent is AFRICA!

World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that the greatest proportion of the adolescent birth rate would stem from West, Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa. In summary, the major parts in Africa will tango along with high adolescent birth rate come 2030. Who will save our young mind from this hovering disaster?

In the meantime, the United Nations Population Funds (UNFPA) reported in 2018 that Africa countries have the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world. Adolescence birth rates ranges from a high of 115 births per 1000 women in  West Africa to 64 births per 1000 women in Latin America and the Caribbean to 45 births per 1000 women in South-Eastern Asia, to a low of 7 births per 1000 women in Eastern Asia. In Africa; Nigeria, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Zambia, South Sudan, Liberia, Congo, Mozambique, Mali, Angola, Mali, Chad and Central Africa Republic (CAR) made the lists of the highest adolescent birth rates in the world.

Teenage pregnancy has been persistently high in Africa. According to the opinion poll conducted by the author of this piece, there are various reasons for the predominance of teenage pregnancy in the continent. The poll identified socio-cultural, environmental and economic factors as the major driving factors of this headache. The root causes gathered from the poll are peer influence, coercive sexual relations, lack of parental counselling, parental neglect, absence of affordable education, lack of comprehensive sexuality education, failed state; nothing to aspire for and lots more.

Benjamin Deborah, 16, a convener of ‘Save a Girl Africa’ a.k.a. SAGA had this to say concerning the root causes of teenage pregnancy: There are many causes to the persistent of teenage pregnancy in the continent, sexual violence is a major cause that needs to be dealt with in the continent. Young girls exposed to sex at a tender age tend to be sexually active and ask for more. Therefore, at first abuse they might not be pregnant, subsequent ones might lead to pregnancies and more pregnancies. I am with her on this; molestation is widespread and particularly affects young girls, about 20% of girls around the world experience sexual abuse as children or teenagers. The more this continues the more adolescence birth rates the continent and the world have to contend.

Olajubutu Olabisi, a 21st century seasoned educator said: The high rate of illiteracy, high level of poverty, poor parental care are the major causes of high rate of adolescent pregnancies in the continent. He added Teenage pregnancy is a major factor affecting the population growth of any nation negatively.

The ancient belief that educating a girl child is a waste of resources is fading out; however, the high rate of illiteracy is still a war in the continent. With more teenage pregnancies in the continent, how can it solve the high rate of illiteracy? Adolescence birth lead too many leaving school, it influences the teenager’s education prospects and economic opportunities. Adolescence pregnancy is the major contributor to school dropout rates among girls. With a handful of these headaches to deal with, the government of Tanzania enacted a policy as a sanction against teenage pregnancies. The government stated that a pregnant teenager would be sent out of school and that marks the end of schooling for such teenager. Is that an objective way to address the issue? Guess not.

In her own candid opinion, Adesina Tolupe, 17, a Law student opposed the government of Tanzania, she said; I do not think that is right, every child has the right to education, even the United Nations recognised the right of every child to education and there were no exceptions. That is a violation of their human rights.

Teenage pregnancies are predominant in countries driven by poverty, lack of employment opportunities, and lack of education just as Mr. Bisi alighted during the opinion poll. With all these root causes in mind, it should not be a shock that most Africa countries made the list. The continent can do better, yes; however, it needs to address some crucial issues and not sweep them under the carpet. Nigeria, the giant of the continent has 123 teenage pregnancies per 1000 teenagers. In the country, pregnancy and motherhood marks the end of school attendance. No wonder, the literacy rate in the country is yet to improve despite the increasing population and there are increase in out-of-school children and dropouts yearly. Statistics revealed that by the age of 16, 21% of females are either pregnant or have a child.

In Cameroon, 121 per 1000 teenagers are pregnant, 12% and 9.3% of all deliveries at the university teaching hospital and central hospital Yuonde respectively are teenagers. More so, Sierra Leone, records 131 teenage pregnancies per 1000 teenagers. According to WHO, in a survey conducted in 2008, 70% of teenage girls in Sierra Leone are married. In Guinea, 154 teenagers per 1000 teenage girls are pregnant, 55% of the citizens live below the poverty line. More reasons for the prevalence of teenage pregnancies in the country. Central Africa Republic (CAR), 229 per 1000 teenager is pregnant, over 45% teenage pregnancy. The country has the second lowest GDP in the world, families often see child marriage as a way to ensure the safety of their daughters; marriage is a means to be safe from sexual violence and abuses. Who does that actually? The penetrators ought to be put to justice, but what happens when the upholder of the justice are the captain of the captives?

Teenage pregnancy is a major contributor to maternal, child mortality rate and the vicious cycle of ill health and poverty in the continent. Cheikh Cisse, Zimbabwe’s representative for UNFPA said; Teenage pregnancy severally curtails girls and young women’s opportunity and hinders their ability to reach their full potential. A young adolescent girl can be an asset for her country if she is not married off during her childhood, if she is not forced to leave school or exposed to an unplanned pregnancy that puts her at high risk of illness. Teenage mothers face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal, endometritis and systemic infections than adult women do.

Pregnancy led to many leaving schools. Based on their subsequent low education attainments many have fewer skills and opportunities for employment, often-perpetuating cycle of poverty. Nationally, this can also have an economic cost with countries missing the income the teenagers would have earned over their lifetime if they had not been pregnant. Miss Deborah was thinking rightly, when she said, Africa leaders are losing their future leaders if they refuse to do anything strategic about the alarming rate of teenage pregnancy in the continent. So pathetic!

Teenagers are inestimable and priceless. I was overjoyed to hear that five Nigerian teenage girls (12-14 years old) from Regina Pacis Model Secondary School won the 2018 Technovation World Pitch competition in Silicon Valley, California. The team, ‘Save a Soul’ came out on top of the 12 finalists, chosen from about 2,000 teams from 115 countries. The young girls, the country is now very proud of developed the ‘FD-Detector’ (Fake Drug Detector) mobile app, which scans a barcode to help confirm the state of the drug is not fake and check the expiry date. They used coding and robotics insights to design the detector. What a heights of intelligence! Can we have more of team save a soul? Yes, we can! There are teenagers skilful in coding and robotics, the potential need to be fan to flame. African teenagers and youths are great resources the continent needs to tap and make effective use of, not marrying them off or making them mothers at tender age.

What can we do to avert this fatal menace in the continent? The alarming rate of teenage pregnancy also affects the population of the continent. Can it contain more citizens with its resources yet untapped? The continent has to seek after abolishing or reducing to the barest minimum early marriage, implementing sanctions against perpetrators of sexual violence in the continent. More so, the issue of sexual education should be carried out objectively and dutifully. This is where I draw the curtains to address parents, teenagers are at a tender and sensitive phase, and they need awareness concerning the changes in their body system. On no account should any parent shy away from teaching their teenagers and children about sex education. This malady needs visitation; it is a continent disgrace and should be treated as such. Enough of young girls living in fear of early marriage, enough of young minds not free to walk on the street because of fear of molestation. It is high time this nomenclature stopped and let start portraying a new and better identity.

Africa as a continent is popular for one bad menace or the other, it time to start shutting down bad records and opening a new one. The teenagers are the future, if a father completely ruins his future now, what is the hope of such father?