When Olamide first gained admission into secondary school, she had high hopes of passing out in flying colours. She also had her plans all mapped out to head on the School of Nursing, earn a degree as a Registered Nurse and move on to practice the profession she is so passionate about. She looked forward to being one of the best caregivers in town and raising a healthy, happy family.
She was 12 years old then; the first of five children raised by indigent and estranged parents. In spite of the challenge at home, Olamide demonstrated great courage and hope of a better life. But there was a vacuum that seemed too hard to fill. Her father had left home; hence she needed a father figure to look up to for mentorship and guidance.
At age 17, she veered into a romantic affair with Rotimi and one year into the relationship, she got pregnant. As is customary in this clime, she suffered huge rejection and ridicule; hence she had to drop out of school. Back home, the situation was not better as her parents expressed utter disappointment and refused to support her, hence she had to move in with her lover.
Unfortunately, the twenty-two year old Rotimi is till date, a sickle-cell patient. And due to frequent ill-health and lack of adequate medical care, he was unable to work substantially enough to earn good income to take care of Olamide even in pregnancy.
And when she was due for delivery, neither the man nor his widowed mother could afford hospital bills. Olamide had her son through C-Section, a very expensive procedure here in Nigeria and her parents had to pay the bills to save her life despite the fact that they had refused to accept bride price or formally give her to Rotimi as wife.
After three years, she did get pregnant again and had a baby girl. Since then, she has remained with Rotimi, though not legally married. Due to his constant health crisis, he is not able to retain any job. And with both man and wife unemployed and the two children unable to go to school or feed well, the small family appears stuck to a life of intense poverty and uncertainty.
Olamide represents today’s generation of teenage mothers whose dream of a better life as educated and successful women have been truncated or sacrificed on the altar of societal expectation, not only because they got pregnant as teenagers (either through voluntary sex, forced marriage or rape) while in school but also because they are condemned and sentenced to a lifetime of hardship as punishment for their sins. Suffice it to say that many such pregnant girls and teenage mothers are also denied opportunity to get back to school as there are no structures in place for alternative educational programs.
For many of these young mothers, motherhood, a treasured experience that should bring great joy, has birthed pain, shame and agony, as a result of parental rejection and societal retribution.
A recent survey conducted by our Girls Arise Initiative team on the statistic of out-of-school girls in Ijegun community where we work revealed an ever increasing spate of teenage pregnancy and emergency motherhood. This, according to findings is due to the high poverty rate and the struggle for survival, which makes many youths, especially girls to be vulnerable and easily swayed in the wrong direction.
Our survey revealed that many of the girls that dropped out of school due to pregnancy are between the ages of 14 and18.
Ijegun is a densely populated community tucked in the Alimosho local government area in Lagos State, Nigeria. A remotely under-developed community that is engulfed in abject poverty, Ijegun boasts of a high percentage of unreached and uninformed youths in terms of reproductive health rights and needs. As a result of this, there is high rate of school dropouts, teenage pregnancy and motherhood, early child marriage and parenthood, large family size and its attendant lack.
There is also gross poverty in the community and this has led to child labour, unhygienic and risky sexual behaviours, unemployment, recklessness, human trafficking, wanton waste of talents/opportunities and frustration at all levels.
Suffice it to say that much as teenage pregnancy is very rampant in the area, it is often met with rebuff and disdain.
While some of the girls we spoke with said they were mercilessly beaten by their parents for getting pregnant, others said they suffered rejection from both their parents and the men responsible for the pregnancy. A few others said they were forced to marry the men that impregnated them or at best had to move to his house since they were forcefully evicted by their own parents/guardian as in the case of Olamide.
How sad that in most cases, the unborn child equally suffers intense trauma and rejection ever before he/she sees the light of day and this sometimes continues even after the child is born: a situation which puts the life of both the expectant mother and unborn baby at risk.
According to The Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH), adolescent pregnancy is not just about health issues but developmental issue.
“Young people including adolescents in Nigeria constitute a significant proportion of the population and face unique challenges, which may compromise their health and developmental potentials if not addressed,” said ARFH president, Oladapo Ladipo in recent comments marking World Population Day.
He spoke of growing recognition of a need to “respond effectively to the health and developmental challenges of young people in Nigeria.”
ARFH calls for “age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education to develop the knowledge and skills” young people need.
“However, education and information are not enough. Good quality reproductive health services must also be readily available in order for adolescents to make informed choices and be healthy,” he said.
One major setback girls that get pregnant as teenagers suffer is unrealised potential.
According to Akin Jimoh, programme director of Development Communications Network, adolescent pregnancy is one reason “females don’t realise their full potentials.”
He said young girls “are vulnerable to sexual violence when they are ignorant of their rights.”
Former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon called for a worldwide pledge to “support adolescent girls to realize their potential and contribute to our shared future.”
Available statistics reveal that some 16 million girls under age 18 give birth each year globally. An estimated 3.2 million of them undergo safe abortions and are exposed to complications in pregnancy, which are leading causes of death among girls aged 15 to 19 years. Most are faced with complications as obstetric fistula, illness, injury and death.
The overwhelming majority of these girls have no say in their continued education because they are often discriminated against once they become pregnant. They are ridiculed and sometimes outrightly expelled from school.
Unfortunately, expulsion puts the life of the unborn child at the risk of being raised by an illiterate mother. Also, such a child, when born, is raised in an atmosphere of rejection and hatred.
Recently, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Laure Beaufils, noted that about 36% of Nigerian teenage girls from ages15 to 19 are mothers. This, of course has become a worrisome trend, not just because girls are the most vulnerable in the society but much more because if their welfare is neglected, the society becomes deeply and negatively affected.
It was therefore against this backdrop that Beaufils expressed British government’s commitment to tacking the numerous challenges confronting the girl-child in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos State, where the influx of visitors has resulted in our having so many hapless girls on the streets, with no education or means of livelihood. According to the envoy, the British government’s effort is geared towards taking girls out of the streets and ensuring that they acquire literacy, numeracy and entrepreneurial skills.
Through the Girls Arise Initiative and Adolescent Mothers’ Club, we work tirelessly to end the shame-game and give pregnant teenagers and adolescent mothers a second chance to rebuild their lives and dreams. One sure way this is made possible is through vocational training and skill acquisition. The primary purpose of this is to create a more structured platform for them to acquire livelihood skills and support them to improve their learning outcomes and economic status.
We also engage in sensitization and advocacy in order to stem this tide of misfortune amongst adolescent girls. And to achieve this, we uphold that there is urgent need to educate our young girls on their reproductive health rights and needs on the one hand while on the other hand, they also need a safe space to nurture their full potentials in spite of whatever mistakes they have made.
I believe that a girl’s life and dream should not come to a halt because she got pregnant while in school.
Yes! There is urgent need for continuous advocacy outreach, targeted at parents/guardians, community elders, traditional rulers, faith-based organizations, educationalists, educational institutions, relevant corporate bodies and other stakeholders in communities like Ijegun to give young mothers a second chance to life in the pursuit of quality and holistic education or alternative empowerment through skill acquisition that will put them in good stead earn income.
It’s high time we as adults release our judgment so we can celebrate and encourage the potentials in these young women and their children.
For people like Olamide, hope would have been completely lost perhaps if not for the intervention of Girls Arise Initiative that restored light and life to her world. When she started attending our mentoring meetings last year, she was inspired and encouraged to acquire some skills so she can earn a living. She is currently training as an Auxiliary Nurse at a traditional birth attendant clinic but things are very tough.
Talking with her, I also discovered that she is a very intelligent girl and would have done well and possibly built a beautiful career if given the opportunity of a second chance to go to school.
I believe the idea of parents disowning their adolescent girls due to unwanted pregnancy and sending them out of the home to face an uncertain and gloomy future should stop.
Also, these girls should not be written off as failures and never do well. Parents, teachers, religious leaders, traditional leaders, community heads and indeed government at all levels should make allowance and promote all-inclusive policies that will enable teenage mothers to go back to school or acquire vocational/entrepreneurial skills to earn a living.
Are there benefits if we give them such opportunities? Yes, there are boundless benefits:
- Young mothers/parents are still able to pursue their educational dream, even up to tertiary level and beyond.
- The young mothers are in a better frame of mind to raise healthy and happy babies, regardless of their mistakes and its resultant effect of unwanted pregnancy.
- Rate of attempted abortion, complications and maternal mortality will reduce.
- Those that opt for skill acquisition will be empowered to make a living and take care of their babies/children.
- They will be mentally, physically and socially engaged in profit making ventures and will no longer be a liability to their parents or a menace to the community.
- They will be able to channel their energies in a positive and productive way.
- The rate at which they are prone to criminality and risky behaviours will reduce.
- The community will enjoy relative peace, progress and socio-economic development.
My heart bled when I read in one of the questionnaires we recently sent of a 14 year old mother who always cries when she sees her one-time classmates going to school. This tells how much her heart still yearns for education. In fact, 70% of the adolescent mothers want to go back to school while 20% opted for vocational training. Only 10% wanted start-up capital to do business.
Part of our plans is to have an alternative school program for out of school girls and teenage mothers but lack of funds has posed a major hindrance.
In more developed climes, there is provision for girls in this situation to go to high school or do home study or online program and earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. Government also helps with work/study programs so they can earn money and complete their education.
I believe our adolescent mothers should not be part of the dregs of society at such a young age because they made mistakes while their mates are building a brilliant career and promising future. We need not promote the circle of poverty and waywardness by afflicting these girls or truncating their dream.
It’s high time we stop the stigmatization and rejection. Our adolescent mothers deserve better. A woman /girl who has not achieved education, can be empowered through economic activity that is close to her.
Why should a girl spend the rest of her life paying for her mistake when her accomplice (the father of the child) walks free and goes ahead to build a life and career? This has got to stop! Teenage pregnancy should not be a death sentence! A girl’s mistake should not determine her future. It should not cut short her promising career! No! It should not! In spite of her fall, she should be encouraged and supported to dust herself and soldier on. Yes! She should. She deserves a second chance.