At the heart of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown stood a dilapidated community, the Falcon Bridge which is also part of the Susan’s bay community. The 3000 residents of Falcon Bridge community, like all other local communities in Sierra Leone are challenged by high level teenage pregnancy.
“A lot of the young girls here do not finish school,’ says Community Chairman Mohamed Koroma. ‘We have no community school, no road network and no health facility.’
Community Chairlady Jariatu Kargbo says despite the fact that there has not been any reported Ebola case in her community; teenage pregnancy poses a serious challenge for them. ‘We have a good number of pregnant girls here and it worries me,’ she says.
Sierra Leone’s ministry of education enacted a policy that prevented pregnant teens from attending schools on the reopening of school from the Ebola emergency school closure. Despite the international outcry against this policy, the government is yet to reverse it, while negotiations between the government and its international partners continue.
Teenage pregnancy and motherhood are identified as the most widespread form of child abuse in Sierra Leone. According to the World Bank, adolescent fertility rate accounts for 98/1000 in 2013, while the teenage pregnancy rate is as high as 68% among sexually active girls. And 28% of teenage boys were reported to have been responsible for pregnancy.
In 2013, a Unicef report shows that ‘Only a small percentage (9.2 percent) of girls [in Sierra Leone] between age 15 and 19 who had more than one sexual partner during the last twelve months reported to have used condom the last time they had sex.’ Reports like this depict lack of sex education for young people. Sex education is not taken seriously mainly because of cultural norms that forbid talking about sex to children, even though people know that these teenagers are sexually active. Moreover, widespread poverty made worse by the Ebola outbreak further made young girls vulnerable to sexual exploitation and unwanted pregnancies.
In 2013, the Sierra Leone government and its partners launched the National Teenage Pregnancy Strategy that aimed to halve the teenage pregnancy rates in the country. An estimated 600 school going girls were reported to have gotten pregnant during the Ebola school closure. Most of these girls come from poor families who could not afford a square meal. Jariatu Kargbo notes that poverty was the main reason for the rise in teen pregnancy in her community. ‘It is a common practice everywhere in this country. These children [girls] are poor and idle for many months and you can imagine what will happen in such situation. They have to eat and so too are their families.’
Sadly, the stark reality is that teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone is endemic. 36% of all pregnancies in the country are among adolescent girls while teenagers accounts for 40% of maternal deaths.
First Lady Sia Koroma acknowledges the problem and has been working with local community-based organizations to put the problem to a halt. For Kargbo, it is not enough for government officials to just keep talking about the problem. ‘What they need to do is to come down to the grassroots, empower communities and families to tackle teenage pregnancy. Our future is at stake here.’
Ebola has killed thousands and left many orphan girls, who carry the burden of taking care of their families. These young vulnerable orphan girls need care too and it is important to empower communities to accept and develop these girls for the future of Sierra Leone.