Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Africa: The chaotic life of pregnant schoolgirls in contemporary society

13.04.2020
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Education is a basic human right, thus everyone has the right to education, irrespective of gender and background. However, some teenagers or minors in the world and Africa in particular at times lose this right due to early and unwanted pregnancies. Science has proven that most teens are sexually active, hence critics have advocated for comprehensive sex education to be taught in school to create more awareness. This is a social problem that has continued to be a topic of discussion especially in sub Saharan Africa, which harbors a significant number of young and fertile girls and where early pregnancy is common.

The effects of this are mammoth and faced by teenage mothers. Studies have shown grave effects of such a social problem to society and the economy. Statistics have also revealed that having a child at a very tender age can have serious effects in the lives of the young parents, the risk factor is that most of them, especially from struggling backgrounds end up as school dropouts. Furthermore, the babies are sometimes malnourished and lack adequate medical care, thus, the susceptibility of young mothers of school going age. But how can this be eradicated? This is a very challenging question that is difficult to comprehend, this is partly because, the more the world evolves and technologies emerge as well, young people are becoming so radical and daring, succumbing to the challenges of juvenile delinquency. A shocking revelation was made in the east African nation of Kenya, where about thirteen thousand (13000) teens were found pregnant in just one county of the country between January and December 2018. The figure was so alarming that it demanded the attention of Kenyan authorities as they had a national social crisis, which needed to be given paramount consideration. 

According to the United Nations and the World Health Organization, children who range from 10 years of age to 19 are considered teenagers or adolescents. As of 2019, the number of teens in the global world stood at 1.2 billion, with a percentage of 16% of the global population.  Statistics have proven that this class of people are the most vulnerable in every society, however, in most cases, the challenges are under addressed. Youth related problems keep on soaring on the continent. In present day society, more youths have adopted a ‘’free’’ lifestyle, engaging in sexual promiscuity that does not only expos them to premature or early pregnancies for girls, but it also makes them vulnerable to some sexually transmissible infections and diseases like HPV, Syphilis, HIV AIDS, gonorrhea for both sexes.  Still taking Kenya as an example, about eight hundred (800) out of a total of seventeen thousand (17) teenage pregnant girls tested positive for HIV in Kilifi County. This actually deprives girls of their education and childhood, as they have to deal with early parenting and the challenges involved. What is disheartening about this is that most of these girls are of school going age and only a minute or an insignificant percentage of these girls return to school after birth due to social constraints. Thus, the plight of pregnant teenage girls of school going age.

Causes of teen pregnancies

Biological studies have shown that the level of adrenaline production or hormones that cause anxiety among humans is usually very high with people of this age group, hence, the causes of teen pregnancy can be both natural and man-made. Primarily, vulnerability and lack of proper knowledge of child reproduction or reproductive health is at the center of teen pregnancies in schools and in the society in general. Sometimes peer pressure exposes young susceptible girls to sexual promiscuity in order to make ends meet.  Thus the unlucky ones unavoidably get pregnant. Rape, sexual violence, early marriages, poor assimilation of moral principles are some of the aspects that expose teenagers to premature parenthood. This has remained a cause for concern, because it has a huge effect on the girls’ educational background and future, and most importantly to the economies of these nations. Like Kenya, many other African nations including South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Tanzania among others nations are on the front line to mitigate its prevalence in school arenas. But in the meantime, some pundits and social advocates have cautioned African governments to label rising teen pregnancy as a national disaster. 

Governments react

This phenomenon, which was gradually becoming a normal routine in school milieus has prompted radical decisions from various governments in Africa. In efforts to curtail the alarming rate of teenage pregnancy in school on the continent, African governments including Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Kenya among others have taken very stringent measures, which   tend to have a very negative impact on the lives of the pregnant girls.

Is stopping teenage pregnant school girls from attending formal education a remedy to the rising social ill? How can this be tackled without depriving these children of their right to education, these unfortunate and vulnerable children are caught up in this dilemma and sometimes remain frustrated all their lives. Without totally condemning the radicalism of some governments, it is normal to arrest this problem to secure the future of an African girl child and the future of Africa’s economies.

The alarming situation in Sierra Leone

Teen/adolescent pregnancy is one of the social problems affecting the West African nation of Sierra Leone. A report published by UNICEF in 2015 postulated that  30% of teens get pregnant and about 40% engage in early marriages by the age of 18. This was even more prevalent during the Ebola crisis that brought misery to millions of Sierra Leoneans. Stigma and shame had taken the whole of teens who got pregnant in Sierra Leone during the Ebola Pandemic as a law in 2015 totally prohibited them from attending class or taking exams, with the fear of contaminating ‘innocent school girls’, under the presidency of Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. This ruling attracted global condemnation from both within and beyond the national territory. NGOs including Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society (Waves) and other rights activities however filed a petition in the ECOWAS regional court in 2018, decrying what they termed the ‘’discriminatory policy’’ , which cheats thousands of school girls of the right to studying comfortably. Great hope for the vulnerable girls who can now access formal education as the regional court ruled in their favour in 2019.  In its regional headquarters in Nigeria the court ‘’ found that a 2015 directive barring pregnant girls from attending school amounted to discrimination and a violation of human rights.’’ The Sierra Leonean government under incumbent Julius Maada Bio (Who had vowed to include every citizen in his development plan) in March 2020 heeded the call of the ECOWAS regional court and revoked the law that banned pregnant school girls from attending school.

Sierra Leoneans received this with mixed reactions, as pundits argued that the country remains a traditional nation and discrimination and stigmatization of girls who succumb to the challenges of life is still prevalent in present day society. Education Minister David Moinina Sengeh said; ‘’the policy shift “was based on evidence and consultation with a diverse task force consisting of religious leaders, heads of schools and civil society organizations”. However, it’s a great milestone for the government of Sierra Leone towards winning the war on the social problems like Female genital Mutilation affecting girl children in the country. Unlike Sierra Leone, the leadership of Tanzania has remained firm on his decision to keep pregnant school girls out of school. President John Magufuli in 2017, while speaking to students categorically said “After getting pregnant, you are done.” Reiterating that ‘’young mothers would be distracted if allowed in school immediately after birth.’’  The president commonly known as the bulldozer also hit hard on men guilty of impregnating schoolgirls, promising them a jail term of up to 30 years. Notwithstanding, the statements sparked widespread condemnation from women and rights groups, as they saw this as prejudice against girls.  It is worth noting that a law exist in the east African Nation of Tanzania that backs the expulsion of pregnant schoolgirls. The Law, which was enacted in 2002 underlines that girls can be ‘’expelled and excluded from school for “offences against morality” and “wedlock”.

This actually shows that Africa’s evolvement is visible mostly in the political and economic spheres, whereas some barbaric acts are still practiced in present day society. The Irony is that a country’s emergence cannot be sustainable if its human capital, which remains very vital to the development of any society is neglected. Not giving a solid foundation to the youthful population is indirectly killing the future of the continent and its citizens. Remember education plays a very vital role in women’s emancipation, thus guaranteeing that young girls have a solid base in basic and secondary education is mandatory. ‘’If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’’ ‘’An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’’-Benjamin Franklin.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit : google image/illustration

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