Teenage Pregnancy; A Death Sentence?
Teenage pregnancy is not a death sentence, neither is it the end of the world. Sadly, due to the hostility, ostracization and fear of stigmatization from those that should support their access to information and quality health services, teenage girls will rather risk their lives pursuing unsafe abortion than tell their parents. Recently, I had an opportunity to interact with so many people particularly those between 19-35yrs. And one question I kept asking them was: what is the major issue with adolescent girls within your local community? Over 94.6 of them mentioned Teenage pregnancy. I didn’t stop there, during our community sensitization and key stakeholder engagements, the same question was repeated: what is the major problem of teenage girls between 10-19years within your community? The responses were the same. Teenage pregnancy!
How many of the teenage pregnancies are planned? Globally, 85 million unintended pregnancies happen in developing countries (WHO, 2012). Very countable number of teenage pregnancy is planned for because at that stage, it is the exploration stage and their decision making is not so critical. Peer and media influence are a norm for them. They want to fit in. They want to taste every “forbidden fruit”. They just want to try out different things. That is the stage they want to try out risky behaviors. The consequences of their exuberance are enormous. Ranging from teenage pregnancy to contraction of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), HIV/AIDS; dropping out from school etc.
Attention, again, is focused on the girl child because of the gender roles, societal expectations and because they are twice disadvantaged compared to boys. For instance, why would everyone turn to blame, stigmatize or ostracize a girl because she’s pregnant and little or no attention is paid to the boy that impregnated her? An unplanned pregnancy is viewed as a girl’s fault and responsibility. Nobody considers the society that has refused to provide her with the right information to be able to make decisions. Only few will remember the boy or man that got her pregnant.
It is interesting to note that many – if not almost all of the – people we have engaged or interviewed, agrees that teenage pregnancy is a major issue within our local communities but are helpless in what to do. How can it be that with how religious we are, people still find a way to eat the “forbidden fruit”? How can it be that in spite of the proliferation of religious houses teenage girls still find their way to unplanned pregnancies? You have to wonder if this is the same society where people don’t want to talk about sex openly nor even mention contraceptive in open places. Nobody wants to show concern until the girl becomes pregnant. That is when all hell will be let lose. It’s all her fault.
Is it really their fault that they become pregnant at teenage level? This is a question that we all
need to ponder on. For every teenage girl that becomes pregnant – out of chance and not by choice – is a society that has failed to live up to its responsibilities. When young people suffer parental neglect from broken homes, irresponsible parenting and the likes, they become vulnerable and susceptible to deception and influence. When we refuse to provide them with the right information because we think our religion forbids discussing sex education or because the school curriculum does not allow for them to be told that when pennies enters the vagina it can result to pregnancy, the result is the 85million unplanned pregnancies that happen annually – globally. Also, when we continue to “advice” against counselling, young people will continue to have unplanned pregnancies. Giving advice is absolutely different from counselling because our advice is very likely to be coloured by our sentiment which can be limited to all human understanding. It will be coloured by what we think our religion, culture and social perception says.
Therefore, it is important to continue to strengthen referral network, community engagement, sensitize young teenage girls about the dangers of having unplanned pregnancies. It is because the pregnancies are not planned that propels a young girl to seek for solution at the weirdest and oddest places or means. In my next blog I will dwell more on the various means that these teenage girls take to ensure that they get rid of a pregnancy because of the fear of stigmatization and hostility from the same community that has failed her twice. But until then, we must continue to provide adequate and sufficient information to young people so that they can make informed choices.
Teenage pregnancy is not a death sentence. We must stop this hostility, ostracization and stigmatization of young girls because they are pregnant. Has the society not failed her enough by not furnishing her with information she needs? Who ostracizes the man that impregnated her? You don’t want to teach sex education neither do you want to mention contraceptive to young people. But the same society will come back to stigmatize the adolescent girl they’ve failed twice – by refusing to provide her with the right information to make informed decisions.
The onus is on the society (parent, religious institutions, media, school, community leaders etc) to furnish young people with the right information. But do we really have the right information to even share with them or we are too bottled up to understand the needs and priorities of young people? They are young. It is the critical stage in psychosocial development. It is the exploration stage where they want to try out everything including risky behaviours. They are not necessarily possessed by any demonic spirit as religionists will ascribe; it is the behaviours and exuberance that comes with that stage. But when we renege or fail as a society to provide them with information and they become pregnant, why do we turn to take vain glory in Victim Blame? But how many more teenage girls would we lose to unsafe practices because we are too bottled up to provide them with information? Think about this. Until then, teenage pregnancy is not a death sentence. Don’t kill them twice.
Simeon Christian Chukwu
Monitoring and Evaluation Officer
FAHPAC, Nigeria; for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Issues