Kids bearing kids: The story of teenage pregnancy in Nigeria

Written by Taiwo Olanrewaju and Ruth Olurounbi
Monday, 14 May 2012

A pregnant teenager

Taiwo Olanrewaju and Ruth Olurounbi take a look at the high incidence of teenage pregnancy in Nigeria. Their report.

SHE is well known in the Orisunbare-Alarere community of Old Ife road, Ibadan, Oyo State where she resides. A 16-year-old who looks like a 24-year-old, Helen is known to be outspoken and forward. She has completed her SS3 examination and has a good result. The young lady, who resides with her parents, suddenly ‘disappeared’ from the community and the general thinking was that she had gained admission into a higher institution.

When after about 10 months, she suddenly ‘reappeared’ with a baby strapped on her back, Helen confessed to whoever cared to listen that she had been out of circulation because she was pregnant. How could such a thing have happened to this promising young lady, aspiring to become a lawyer, one wondered?

Helen volunteered the facts. “I was introduced to Kunle, an accountant based in Port Harcourt by a friend. He said he was interested in me. He used to buy me items like jewellery, small purse, perfume, assorted biscuits, tops, make-up kits and offered me money on a number of occasions when he came home to Ibadan. He said he wanted to marry me, so, I visited him once in a while.

“On this particular day when he came around, he called my mobile set and asked me to meet him at home. It was on that day that he deflowered me. I had never had sex before that day. He did not give me any medicine to use and I did not know that I should use any pregnancy preventive medicine. The pregnancy was six months old before I knew as I was still menstruating monthly.

“I hope to go back to school for my degree as soon as the boy is old enough to be left with my mother. Thank God Kunle did not deny me. He said he would still marry me and his parents came around to see my parents. He supports our baby with some monthly allowance.”

That is Helen’s pathetic true life story for you. Morenike is not as lucky as Helen, although she is older. She is 23-year-old now but when the incident she narrated to a colleague took place; she was only 18 years old then.

According to her, “I met Tunde on one of my trips to Lagos. He told me he was an Air Force officer attached to a base in Abuja. He shuttles between Lagos and Abuja. I visited him in Lagos once and I stayed the night. I didn’t know he had added a sedative to my drink. It was when I woke up in the morning that I knew that he had had carnal knowledge of me. I couldn’t tell my mother that I slept in his house or that he raped me.

“I later discovered that I was pregnant. My mother, being a devout Christian did not let me abort the pregnancy. It was a harrowing experience for me as I could not go to church. I had to change church and I hid myself whenever I saw my friends for the duration of the pregnancy.

“It was after the delivery that I discovered that Tunde was already married with children. I had to break off with him because my mother will not let me be a second wife. He in turn stopped sending financial support to me and my baby. I have to fend for myself and the baby.”

Ogochukwu Okorie has always been a mummy’s girl. But in spite of her closeness to her mother, she was not given any sexuality education. She did not really have the opportunity to mix with her peers because she was always indoors after school hours. So, she got her ‘freedom’ when she gained admission at age 17 to study Microbiology in one of the higher institutions in the South West of Nigeria.

She said her room mates talked so much about sex before their matriculation that she decided to give it a trial, more so that she had a male admirer who was willing to date her. At the next opportunity, she left school and travelled to the neighbouring town to meet her lover. She gave in to his overtures and that was it; they only made love once and because she did not know that she ought to have protected herself, she became pregnant.

Her 25-year-old lover either pretended or did not actually know that having sex once could result in pregnancy as he refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy. After Ogochukwu’s matriculation, she left for home when it was discovered that she was pregnant. She gave birth to a set of twins, girls. She returned to school but had already missed a year. Her parents had lied to the school authority that she was involved in an accident. Although her lover later came to plead and confessed that he was responsible for the pregnancy, her parents decided that she would raise her twins alone while she’s severed relationship with her lover.

Also, Bidemi Kasali just lost her baby. She almost lost her life in the process. She is 16 years old. Doctors said her pelvis is dangerously narrow, her pvc boderline low and her blood pressure had remained high for a very long time.Because of the precarious situation Bidemi was in, performing a Ceaseran section wasn’t an easy choice to make. Somehow though, the doctors, found a way to save her. Her baby, however, couldn’t make it.

Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu Minister of Health

Explaining the death of the new born, the doctor who attended to her, who wouldn’t share his name or want the name or the name of his hospital in print, said that Bidemi’s baby died as a result of lack of ante-natal care. He added the mother and child were malnourished and that Bidemi’s body was not properly matured or equipped yet to mother a child. Bidemi’s older brother and grandmother, who were on hand when the Nigerian Tribune visited, said “it’s a miracle that she survived. We are still hoping for another miracle that she lives.” The older brother, Kazeem, continued that when the baby was born, the doctors told “us that she weighed only one kilo. When the baby was given to us, she was very blue from head to toe. I was very scared and I thought is this what has been in my sister’s belly all of this time? I was very sad for her. But I am also grateful that my sister is alive. I only pray to God that He spares her life completely.”

Bidemi’s case, the attending doctor said, was one of the very few worst cases he had ever had to deal with in his 25 years of practice.

According to a World Bank report published in 2010, the adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19) in Nigeria was 115.53 in 2009, while it was 116.92 in 2008.

Lots of incidents of teenage pregnancy abound, which ordinarily could have been averted through sexuality education, volunteered Mrs. Omotola Ojo, a mother and nurse by profession.

Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, Ojo, noted that lack of sexuality education had been the major cause of teenage pregnancy. The mother of four children admonished parents to be free with their children and teach, “as in teaching in the real sense of the word”, their children and wards sexuality education.

“The world is far more advanced than for mothers to be lying to their children about their private organs, calling them insects or other names than what they are. Let your children know the real names of their private organs, the purposes they serve and why they should not indulge in sexual activities now.

“Let them know that indulging in sexual activities outside marriage has a lot of negative consequences for them. If the children are already in senior primary or secondary schools, let them be free to tell you what they know about sex. That way, you will be able to guide them aright.

“So, let parents be willing to discuss sex with their children and wards,” Mrs. Ojo counselled.

Other causes of teenage pregnancy have been said to be poverty, lack of parental guidance, rape, western influence, peer pressure, culture, abuse by relations and lack of self will. To this end, a school counsellor, Mr. Tade Makinwa, advised parents to teach their children to be hard working because there is dignity in labour and to be contented with such things as they have, especially their female children, as that would not allow them to fall prey to males who flaunt their wealth to entice young ladies.

“It is also pertinent for parents, especially mothers, to teach their children, especially females how to interact with the opposite sex and not allow anybody to touch them anyhow. Parents should be able to monitor the type of films their children and wards watch, the type of friends they move with and the type of people they associate with online by being their friends on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, Hi5, Badoo, LinkedIn and etc.

“More importantly, parents should teach their children not to be followers of the multitude. They should have minds of their own and be responsible for their actions. They should also be wary of the opposite sex, irrespective of the fact that they are elderly or are close relations,” Makinwa added.

Health risks associated with children or babies born to teenage mothers, Dr Ebunola Ayodele, a practising gyanecologist in Lagos, who also counsels young people, said is very huge. He explained that the children, are more likely to suffer from health, social, and emotional problems, as against children born to older mothers. Also, he added, teenage mothers are almost always at an increased risk of complications, such as premature labor and other consequences.

Dr Kunle Olukotun, a doctor with Christian Missionary Foundation, an international mission agency, observed that teenage mothers are at a greater risk of encountering medical complications because an average teenage mother is more likely to receive little or no prenatal care. This results into the mother becoming anaemic and as such, prone to developing preeclampsia, a severe condition associated with high blood pressure.

Another health challenge teenage mothers face is that of vitamin deficiencies, Dr Ayodele also said. He explained that since the teenage mother is still growing herself, her weight gain during pregnancy is likely to be inadequate.

The pelvic bones of a mother do not reach their maximum size until about the age of 18, Dr Ayodele said. As such, the pelvis of the teenage mother may not have grown enough to allow vaginal delivery of a normal-size baby, which in such cases, leads to the higher incidence of Ceaserean section in teenage mothers.

All these cumulative challenges make it very common for babies born to teenage mothers to die in the first year of life, as compared to those born to older mothers. “Since the teenage mother is less likely to eat correctly during pregnancy, her baby often has a low birth weight (less than 51/2 pounds), making it more likely the baby will become ill,” a doctor said.

A social worker, Dr Kemi Awe noted that because teenage mothers are more likely to drop out of school, they are not afforded the opportunity to earn good pay to cater for their children, saying that only few of teenage mothers are able to obtain a high school diploma.

Dr Elizabeth Eden, from the United States of America noted that in her country, teenage pregnancies are associated with increased rates of alcohol abuse and substance abuse, lower educational level, and reduced earning potential in teen fathers. Dr Awe added that in Nigeria, teenage fathers are not adequately prepared to take up the roles of being fathers to their children as they are only children themselves. She noted that in the poor locality especially, teenage fathers are known as smokers and substance abusers.

According to Professor Ben Ehigie of the Department of Psychology, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, “teenage pregnancy occurs as a result of lack of exposure while attitude towards educating the teenager on sex is primitive. We don’t talk about sex and intercourse in this part of the world, so whatever the teenagers know about sex is through their peers and experimentation, which land them in trouble, as it leads to unwanted pregnancy.

“Also, parents are not around to monitor their children and wards, they expose them to the environment. They move them from one school to one lesson and to another person for monitoring and the person would not monitor the children as well as their parents would have.

“Poverty also contributes to incidences of teenage pregnancy as some men induce and entice teenage girls with financial benefits and other materials.”

On the consequences of teenage pregnancy, Professor Ehigie said “the teenage girl often loses focus and purpose in life. It could be traumatic as the society looks badly at such children, who become withdrawn and downcast. Often time, they are no longer able to cope with their education. The society loses the quota the girl, if she didn’t become pregnant, would have contributed to the society. She becomes a waste to her parents who could have been looking forward to her. Her family also becomes stigmatised.

“The nation loses what the girl would have contributed one way or the other while she gets withdrawn from school. It is a great loss for the girl as she unpreparedly gives birth. She thinks of how to take care of the child. And for the child born in such a circumstance, it is so unfortunate because some of them get abandoned and become stigmatised. Although they could be adopted, but one way or the other, their self esteem and psyche are affected in such a manner that they cannot reach their full potential.”


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