Girls' advocate Aramide Oikelome says it’s time to stop rejecting teen mothers and start encouraging them.
“A girl’s life and dreams should not come to a halt because she got pregnant while in school.”
The Story of Olamide
When Olamide first gained admission into secondary school, she had high hopes of passing with flying colors. She also had plans all mapped out to head on to nursing school, earn a degree as a registered nurse, and practice the profession she is so passionate about. She looked forward to being one of the best caregivers in town and someday raising a healthy, beautiful family.
She was 12 years old then, the first of five children raised by indigent and estranged parents. In spite of the challenges at home, Olamide demonstrated great courage and hope for a better life. But her father had left home, and without him she lacked mentorship and guidance.
At age 17, she became involved in a relationship with a young man named Rotimi, and one year into that relationship, she got pregnant. As a result, she suffered rejection and ridicule, as is customary in this culture. She had to drop out of school.
Back home, her parents expressed utter disappointment and refused to support her. Olamide had to move in with her lover. Rotimi, however, was a sickle-cell patient who, due to frequent ill-health and lack of adequate medical care, was unable to work enough to earn sufficient income to support her.
When Olamide was due for delivery, there was no money for hospital bills. Olamide had her son via Cesarean section, a very expensive procedure here in Nigeria. Her parents had to pay the bills to save her life, despite the fact that they had refused to formally give her to Rotimi as wife.
After three years, Olamide got pregnant again and had a baby girl. She has remained with Rotimi, though they are not legally married. Due to his constant health crises, he is not able to retain any job. With both of them unemployed and their two children unable to go to school or eat well, the small family appears stuck in a life of intense poverty and uncertainty.
Teen Pregnancy: A Life Sentence in Ijegun, Nigeria
Olamide represents today’s generation of teenage mothers whose dreams of a better life as educated and successful women have been sacrificed on the altar of social expectations. Because they got pregnant while in school (either through voluntary sex, forced marriage, or rape), these young women are condemned by society and sentenced to a lifetime of hardship.
For Olamide, all hope for a better future might have been completely lost had it not been for the intervention of Girls Arise Initiative.
Girls Arise Initiative is a project of Bestspring Foundation, a non-profit that I run in Nigeria as founder and executive director. It is a mentoring club that provides a safe and supportive space for girls to build and actualize their dreams through education and life skills training, in spite of poverty or intimidation.
Olamide started attending our mentoring meetings last year, where she was inspired and encouraged to acquire income-generating skills. She is currently training as an auxiliary nurse at a traditional birth attendant clinic, but things are still very tough for her and her family.
Girls Arise Initiative recently surveyed out-of-school girls in the Ijegun community where we work. Ijegun is a remote, densely populated community tucked away in the Alimosho local government area in Lagos State, Nigeria. It is under-developed and engulfed in abject poverty. A high percentage of youth here remain uninformed about their reproductive health, rights, and needs.
Our survey revealed an ever-increasing spate of teenage pregnancy in Ijegun with girls becoming mothers who are least prepared for the tasks of motherhood.
This, according to our findings, is due to the high poverty rate and struggle for survival here. Under such circumstances, youth, especially girls, are vulnerable and easily swayed in the wrong direction. According to Akin Jimoh, program director of Development Communications Network—a non-profit in Nigeria focused on promoting public health—young girls “are vulnerable to sexual violence when they are ignorant of their rights.”
Many of the girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancy in Ijegun are between the ages of 14 and 17.
Even though teenage pregnancy is rampant in the area, it is often met with rebuff and disdain. Some of the girls we spoke with said they were mercilessly beaten by their parents for getting pregnant. Others said they suffered rejection from their parents as well as the men responsible for their pregnancy. Still others said they were forced to marry the men who impregnated them, or as in the case of Olamide, were forcefully evicted by their own parents or guardians and had to move in with these men.
The overwhelming majority of these girls were also unable to continue their education because they were ridiculed by their peers and expelled from school. For girls who get pregnant as teenagers, one major setback is not being able to continue school in order to realize their potential.
My heart bled when I read the survey response from a 14-year-old mother who always cries when she sees her former classmates going to school. This tells how much her heart still yearns for education. In fact, 70% of the adolescent mothers we surveyed wanted to go back to school while 20% said they would opt for vocational training. Only 10% wanted start-up capital to do business.
A Second Chance for Adolescent Mothers
To stem the tide of misfortune among adolescent girls in Nigeria, we must first educate our young girls on their reproductive health, rights, and needs. Secondly, we must provide girls safe spaces to nurture their potential in spite of whatever mistakes they have made. Finally, we must advocate for a second chance for young mothers. Young mothers must have equal opportunities to empower themselves and earn income through education or skills acquisition.
We must reach out to parents, guardians, community elders, traditional rulers, faith-based organizations, educators, educational institutions, and other stakeholders in communities like Ijegun with this message. It is high time we as adults release our judgment of teen mothers so we can celebrate and encourage their potential and that of their children.
If given such opportunities the benefits are boundless: Young mothers will still be able to pursue their educational dream, even up to tertiary level and beyond; they will be in a better frame of mind to raise healthy and happy babies; the rate at which they dump their newborns in septic tanks and refuse sites for orphanages to rescue will drop; the rates of attempted abortion, related complications, and maternal mortality will fall; young mothers who opt for skills acquisition will be empowered to make a living and take care of their children; the community will enjoy relative peace, progress, and socio-economic development.
I believe our adolescent mothers should not be cast to the margins of society because they made mistakes while their mates are building brilliant careers and promising futures. We need not perpetuate cycles of poverty and waywardness by truncating girls’ dreams. A girl’s life and dreams should not come to a halt because she got pregnant while in school.
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How to Get Involved
You can help advocate for girls like Olamide. Aramide is seeking volunteers to help her campaign for the rights of adolescent mothers in Nigeria. To get involved, you can reply to Aramide in the comments section below, or message her directly through her World Pulse profile.
For more information about Aramide's work, visit the Bestspring Foundation website.