•Pains of teenage mothers
It is not unusual to find teenagers being delivered of babies. And Nigeria is not an exception. And sadly, too, the situation seems to be taking on a serious trend among teenagers aged 13-18 in particular. GABRIEL OLAWALE investigated this phenomenon and interacted with some of the affected teenagers. Expressing ignorance and naivety, they described their predicament as their own way out of societal menace caused by poverty, peer-pressure and parental deprivation. Medical experts, however, suggest that extensive health education, adequate parental care and inculcation of moral values are some of the measures to curb the growing incidence of teenage pregnancy in the country.
Like every new mother, Sarah was full of joy. She had waited three years for the birth of her first daughter. Everyone could understand the reason for her joy; she had suffered untold hardship in the hands of her in-laws during the three years of waiting. The little girl was named Stephanie.
Her aspiration was for the little girl to have a good primary education, go to secondary school, proceed to the university, bag a degree, grab a good job and become a notable professional. But that was not to be. 18 years down the line, Sarah’s aspiration for the teenage girl was cut short when Stephanie became pregnant. Many young girls like Stephanie have not only had their hopes dashed, quite a few have also been sent to their early graves.
Curious about how deep teenage pregnancy has eaten into the fabric of the society, Sunday Vanguard went in search of young girls caught in the web.
The mission, among others, was to understand why young girls engage in sexual relationships that lead into unwanted pregnancies.
The first encounter was with 17-year-old Esther Babatunde, a former student of a secondary school in Badagry area of Lagos State. Nick-named ‘Esther Ayaba’, meaning, ‘Esther the king’s wife’, she succumbed to peer-pressure. The teenage girl lamented not being able to join her class mates in preparing for the final year exams and unwittingly bid that precious opportunity a reluctant farewell.
Esther had been persuaded by a friend that, to be seen as a ‘big girl’ in school, she had to be in sexual relationship with the opposite sex.
One of her classmates, Tolulope Eyitayo, told Sunday Vanguard how Esther talked about Kunle, a male student, who sent her a love letter.
“I warned her to be careful. But our classmates began to refer to me as ‘SU’, the tag for a born-again Christian. Subsequently, Esther stopped discussing her personal issues with me”, Tolulope said.
“Then, one day, on our way home, she began to throw-up. I didn’t know it was a sign of pregnancy until a few days later when she opened-up to me that she had agreed with Kunle to terminate the pregnancy. She said Kunle promised to give her some drugs.
“I was afraid she could, in the process, harm herself. I was also afraid to tell our teachers so that they would not think I was also a bad girl. Two days later, Esther died while trying to abort the pregnancy.
“I became very sad during a visit by sympathizers to her parents who told their visitors that Esther died in her sleep. I wept bitterly because her life was cut short”.
The story of Baliques Ibrahim, 16, is not only pathetic because she carried unwanted pregnancy for which she dropped out of school, she also lost the baby months after she was delivered.
“My dream was to take my family out of poverty; but, now, I have ended up causing more hurt than I can imagine. I had sex with a boy about my age just once and, suddenly, I am a young mother and had to drop out of school”, she narrated.
“To make matters worse, my baby, Habeeb, died few months after delivery,” she added tearfully.
“I carried the pregnancy to full term. I spent a lot of money because the boy who impregnated me, Lukman, was then an undergraduate. He used to come to our area whenever he was on holidays.”
Speaking on how she became a victim of unwanted pregnancy, she stated, “My parents contributed to my mistake. When I was growing up, my mother often told me that if a boy touched me, I would get pregnant. Anytime I also asked her about something related to sex or private part, she would not respond. Sometimes, she would even speak in parables.
“She hid vital information from me. And from the time I got pregnant till when l was delivered of my baby, I did not know anything about family planning. Lukman used to tell me that first-time sex would not get a girl pregnant. I fell for his false position and allowed him to have sex with me. I was very disappointed when I got pregnant and had to stop schooling”.
The story of Gisel Hunye, 16, who hails from the Republic of Benin, best illustrates the psychological challenges experienced by teen mothers. Gisel had settled at Makoko area of Yaba to learn fashion designing. Looking back with regret, she narrated: “I resisted when my ex-boyfriend, Toje, approached me. But he kept telling me that he would take care of me. That was the first time someone had promised to help me.
“Not long after, he lured me into sex. When we started, I used to wash my private part with water mixed with salt or stand up immediately after sex. He (Toje) said he didn’t like condom and also I didn’t like it. Within the first three months of the relationship, I was pregnant. Yet, I didn’t know because I kept menstruating. It was people that told me I was pregnant.
“Now, the fashion designing training that was supposed to be for two years has been extended to four years. My boss allowed me to go and deliver. Once the baby is some months old, I must go back and continue the apprenticeship. The trauma I go through every day is beyond imagination. I don’t know when the troubles will end.”
In the case of Grace Olamide, 18, she had just completed her secondary education and enrolled for catering while awaiting admission into university when she became pregnant. Her ambition was to work with the Lagos Inland Revenue Service on completion of her university education. But, today, Olamide is a petty trader.
She told Sunday Vanguard, “My parents are no longer together. When my father learnt that I was pregnant, he was upset. He kept saying it happened because I was living with my mother. I even made several efforts to abort it but failed. “Presently, my child is almost a year old. Anytime I have to hawk soft drinks, I keep him with a man selling fried yam by the roadside. I can’t carry him and be running in the traffic.”
Experts are worried about increasing rates of teenage pregnancy in Nigeria. They have good reason to be worried.
No less than 23 percent of adolescents, aged between 15 and 19, are mothers or pregnant with their first child, according to the National Population Commission (NPC). The pregnancies are unwanted or unintended.
The most recent Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) in the country also shows that over 1.3 million unintended pregnancies occur annually in Nigeria with over half resulting in abortion.
The NPC also notes that 54-percent of young women in Nigeria give birth by age 20 while the maternal mortality estimate for the country suggests that 54,000 women die each year due to pregnancy-related complications.
Meanwhile, the risk of injuries and deaths from pregnancy-related complications remain higher among teenage mothers. This is because they are more likely to experience unsafe abortions and suffer higher risk of complications at birth due to their underdeveloped bodies.
Sunday Vanguard investigation reveals that the prevalence of teenage pregnancy is highest in the North-West zone (36 percent) and lowest in the South-East and South-West zones (8 percent).
About 80 percent of these pregnant teenagers are often unprepared for the situation they ignorantly found themselves in.
Worse still, teenage pregnancy carries social stigma in many communities and cultures.
The Coordinator, Children and Women Against Child Sexual Abuse Initiative (CWACSAI), Mrs Florence Ubajekwe, blamed teenage pregnancy on poor sexual education, saying it is mostly left for parents to handle.
According to Ubajekwe, teachers and members of the society shouldn’t leave sexual education to parents alone as it remains an important subject that would help protect the health of children and their future.
“However, the major problem facing Nigerian parents and adolescents is the shame and secrecy of discussing sex matters. A mother should regularly mention parts of the child’s body from head to toe and call them by their names, not nicknames, so they can be familiar”, she said.
The activist pointed out that education about sexuality issues would enable parents have control over what the children are exposed to about sex.
She stressed that children who receive sex education at home are less likely to engage in risky sexual activities.
“Sex education increases the chances of teenagers having the courage to approach their parents and discuss with them when they are faced with difficult or dangerous situations”, Ubajekwe stated.
“As a matter of fact, sex education must commence as early as the ages of 5-8. Boys and girls must be taught about their bodies including the private parts and internal reproductive organs. Then, emphasis must be hinged on ‘Say no to sexual advances and abuse.’”
She counselled that parents must engage their children, once they are 9 to 12 years old, on talks about friendship, family relationships, puberty signs in detail, menstruation, ejaculation, wet dreams in boys, sexual attraction to the opposite sex, pornography and consequences of wrong choices, among others.
Commenting specifically on the case of one of the victims, Baliques, Ubajekwe observed that she still required medical attention after being delivered of her baby and losing her.
The CWACSAI Coordinator stressed that maternal and parental health is of particular concern among teenagers who are pregnant or parenting.
“The worldwide incidence of premature births and low-birth weight is higher among adolescent mothers. In rural hospitals, for instance, teenage mothers between 15 and 19 years are more likely to have anaemia, preterm delivery and low birth weight than mothers between 20 and 24 years old”,
On his part, the Chairman, Lagos Sector of the Society of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians of Nigeria (SOGON), Dr. Joseph Akinde, said that a girl attains puberty around the age of 10; which means that she can get pregnant if she’s not closely watched or educated about prevention.
Akinde stressed that it does not mean the girl’s body system is fully mature. “As such, if such a girl gets pregnant at that tender age, the pregnancy may be problematic because her pelvis, that is, the exit point for baby at the time of delivery is not yet fully developed”, he stated.
“Another challenge is that, because their pregnancies are out of wedlock, these girls tend not to have adequate care. As a result, a number of them come down with pregnancy-induced hypertension which is one of the leading causes of death for women in pregnancy. In some other cases, when these girls give birth, the baby may end up malnourished.”
The consultant gynaecologist noted that pregnancy in teenagers tends to lead to difficulty in labour. And, if this is left unattended to, they may end up with Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF).
“The psychosocial development of every infant is very important to his overall well-being. Thus, children born with poor psychological development are more likely to be born prematurely. Such will also have low birth rates thereby predisposing them to many other life-long conditions”, he said.
“Also, children of teen mothers are at high risk intellectually and prone to language and socio-emotional delays due to lack of a role model in their growing up years. Furthermore, they are likely to be born with low birth weights, predisposing them to many lifelong conditions”.
‘The need for sexual education’
Speaking on teenage pregnancy, an educationist, Mrs. Gladys Grimmes, said it happens because there is no sexuality education in many schools.
According to her, sexuality education enables teenagers to recognize the dangers of immorality.
She identified another challenge as the rate of sexual abuse of children.
Grimmes stressed the need for children to be educated on what to do when faced with sexual challenges.
A mother and sociologist, Mrs. Abebola Olubimo, supported the call for sexual education to give children the power to prevent early pregnancies and sexual abuse.
“If you don’t teach them, someone else will; and it is very much likely to be the wrong information. It is important we let our children also know the concept of sexuality of two individuals, of the opposite sexes. Our responsibility as caregivers is to guide and let them understand what the dangers are. What worked for us years ago is not working for them in today’s era”, she said.
“So, we must not let them go through the extreme culture shock with the realities of the current time. Parents and teachers should thus work together to guide, show them and lead them in the right path”.
Lagos battles teenage pregnancy
Lagos State government is rising to the occasion as it, in 2017, set up ‘Young Moms Clinic’ targeted at providing healthcare services for pregnant teenagers and their children.
Dr. Olufemi Onanuga, Special Adviser to the Governor on Primary Health Care (PHC), noted that initial assessment based on a pilot study conducted on Lagos Island revealed poor teenagers’ knowledge about reproductive health. And this is because there was limited access to contraceptives for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies.
“Since we all know that unprotected sex leads to unintended pregnancy amongst teenagers in the country, all hands have to be on deck to curb it. The situation is assuming an alarming dimension and has become a major health issue because of its harmful effects on girls’ physical, psychological, economic and social status”, he said.
Onanuga stressed that the state government, with the assistance of partners, will not relent in its efforts towards ensuring that straying teenagers are helped to stay in line.