By: Deborah Omoare
Inside a supermarket in the Oluyole local government area of Oyo State is Kemi, a 17-year-old girl who was struggling to adjust the three-month-old baby on her back, this she was doing with a frowning face as anguish is boldly written all over her that she is indeed frustrated beyond description.
The young mother, Kemi, outstretched her right hand to collect the milk she bought from a salesperson attending to her. Simultaneously, she was using her other hand trying to support the baby from falling due to the small wrapper strapped around the child.
The father of the newborn whom Kemi claimed works in Lagos has allegedly left her all alone to carry the burden of nursing the child, and ever since then, she relies on braiding people’s hair to make ends meet and to feed her baby. However, she also lives with her single mother, a petty trader that sells food alongside three of her siblings.
Teenage pregnancy, also referred to as adolescent pregnancy, has drastically increased in recent years in Nigeria to the extent that this social issue has stimulated into a precarious threat leading to stigma, rejection, or violence by partners, parents, and peers. It has also affected the health, active participation, and education of many girl-child in society. Adolescent pregnancy and childbearing often lead girls to drop out of school, although efforts are underway in some places to enable them to return to school after childbirth.
Adolescent pregnancy data from the world health organization revealed that nearly 12 million girls aged 15–19 years and at least 777,000 girls under 15 years give birth each year with at least 10 million unintended pregnancies occurring each year among adolescent girls aged 15–19 years in the developing world.
Similarly, adolescent pregnancy and complications that arise during and during both pregnancy and childbirth have also led to the cause of death for 15–19-year-old girls globally. Of the estimated 5.6 million abortions that occur each year among adolescent girls, 3.9 million of them are unsafe, contributing to maternal mortality, morbidity, and lasting health problems in society.
In Nigeria, 1 out of 5 teenage women from age 15-19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child. According to the state, Lagos which has 1 percent of teenage girls who have begun childbearing, has the lowest percentage, unlike Bauchi in northeastern Nigeria which has 41 percent. Forty-four percent of teenage women with no education have begun childbearing, compared to 1 percent of teenage women with more than secondary education.
Many girls who are pregnant were utterly unprepared for the circumstances in which they unknowingly or unintentionally found themselves. In many societies, teenage pregnancies are stigmatized, and most of them are pressured or forced to drop out of school, which consequently wrecks their educational chances.
For Kemi, her case was not different as she revealed that she dropped out of school last year in SS 2 because of the stigma from people and her peers in school.
“When I discovered that I was pregnant, which I never planned for, I didn’t want to stop schooling, so I took injections twice to abort the fetus but they did not work. The person that injected me the first time even told me that in 30 seconds, the fetus will be flushed out but all proved abortive, she went further to tell me to take alcohol but it did not work. I had no option other than to keep the baby and eventually gave birth to a girl in May”, she recounted.
The Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey in a study confirmed that 33 percent of women aged 15-49 in Nigeria have no education, compared to 22 percent of men aged 15-49. However, 14 percent of women and 13 percent of men have attended primary school.
Also, 4 out of 10 women and 48 percent of men have attended secondary school. Only 11 percent of women and 17 percent of men have more than secondary education. 47 percent of women and 28 percent of men are illiterate.
This infers a greater percentage of literate males than females in the 15–49 age bracket. However, the notion that girls should be responsible for preventing pregnancy and that it is their fault if they become pregnant is still widely held.
What The Law Says About Child Pregnancy
The Nigeria Child’s Right Act 2003 recognizes the right of a child to free, compulsory, and universal basic education. Section 15, subsection 5 made provision for a female child who becomes pregnant before completing her education. Such a female child is granted an opportunity after delivery to continue with her education.
The Health Implications…
A nutritionist who works with the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Goodness Chidi disclosed that teenagers are at a greater risk for pregnancy-related high blood pressure and its complications.
She noted that teens are at higher risk of having low-birth-weight babies, below 2.5 KG and it becomes a struggle for such babies to survive early in life.
“There is an issue of high blood pressure, which is called preeclampsia which comes before or during delivery and the girl can pass on as a result of complications during delivery.
“This happens mostly to adolescent girls who do not have access to adequate nutrition, when the calcium store is depleted, the iron is depleted. Imagine when iron and calcium are needed for the fetus to survive and the girl does not have enough not to talk of supplying to the child inside her womb. It could also lead to anemia, where the girl does not have adequate nutrients in her body”, she added.
A nurse midwife at the University College Hospital Ibadan, UCH Mrs. Titilayo Abiola, said one of the health hazards of the teenage mother is that it will affect the whole body psychologically, physically, and socially.
“Healthwise, the pregnancy will affect the girl because her body is not properly developed. When someone is pregnant, it will affect all the systems and the body might not be able to cope. Psychologically too, she will be thinking if she will survive it and thinking if she will continue with her folks.
These are issues, and In most cases, if the girl is fortunate to have good parents, they can take care of her and she will be able to go back to school but, unfortunately, most of them opt out of school after pregnancy, ” she asserted.
The nurse added that one of the health risks of teenage pregnancy is also vesico vaginal fistula which is an abnormal opening between the vagina and urinary bladder.
“The result is that urine leaks out of the vagina, whenever she is sitting down, or going about, urine will be dropping out through the vagina. Then she will be stinking and smelling. At times, it may be between the vagina and the rectum that has to do with feces. If you move closer to that person, you will be perceiving a kind of odor of urine or feces. The only way to repair this opening is through surgery, which is a problem that needs money”, she said.
Causes of Teenage Pregnancy
The midwife, Mrs. Abiola stresses that the lack of parental care and poverty are the major causes of teenage pregnancy in Nigeria.
“In some homes, when the father wakes up, he goes on his way, the mother will go her way and there is nobody to look after the children. They won’t even bother to know what their children are eating, or what they are doing after they have left home. So, they just let them be and leave them on their own.”
“There was an incident recently of a girl who has lost her mother and it was the father that was taking care of her and her three siblings.
So this girl needed about 1,500 to buy brassier and the boyfriend said he cannot give her unless he have sex with her, which he did but unfortunately, the money was not given to the girl and the girl got pregnant but thank God she was able to make it because it affected her health. She delivered through the Caesarean Section.” She recounted.
For a solution, the nurse emphasized that children should be taught about sex education by their parents at home.
“It is as if we see it as a taboo to be discussing sex education with our children. Once they are of age, these are things we should start telling them; these are things you should do, these are the things you should not do.
Let them know about sex not that you will be hiding things from them. Let’s tell them, ‘you are not yet ready for this thing so don’t go this way, don’t go that way’. We should let them know and make such discourse interacting with them. It will make them always confide in us, this way, they will be able to tell us anything and they will even ask questions.
“There are some parents when their children ask about anything, they will tell them to keep their mouths shut. What do you know about that? And the girl or boy may not even ask about such a thing again so she will now learn from outside or from the peer group which should not be so. “Abiola added.