Mrs.Irene Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu,the wife of Majority Leader of Parliament, has lamented about the alarming teenage Pregnancy figures across the country. She has therefore called on all stakeholders to work hand in hand to create a society that cherishes and uplifts its young people.
According to her,comprehensive sex education, improved access to reproductive health services, and supportive programmes for young parents are essential components of this effort. By leveraging the power of data-driven approaches and fostering a culture of inclusivity and support, “we can pave the way for a brighter future for Ghana’s youth and the nation as a whole”,she added.
Mrs. Irene Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu who is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sompahemaa Foundation made the call during maiden edition of the Teenage Pregnancy and violence awareness campaign held on 29th July,2023 at Yaa Asantewaa Senior High School,Kumasi.
The well attended campaign was under the theme “Empowering the Youth to be Better Future Leaders,”.
Sompahemaa said “together, let us empower our youth to be the exceptional leaders we envision – leaders who will shape a more equitable, prosperous, and vibrant future for Ghana. As Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States once said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
She revealed that according to data by the Ghana Health Service, in 2020, 13 teenage girls in Ghana got pregnant on a daily basis. Again, of all the teenage pregnancies that occurred between 2016 and 2020, over 13,400 involved girls between the ages of 10 and 14.
The statistics further indicate that 102,673 teenagers were reported pregnant in 2022 alone. According to Sompahemaa,these figures are not only disturbing, but are also a critical concern that have life-time ramifications on the lives, health, wealth and well-being of the youth, their children, families, communities, and the country at large.
Part of Sompahemaa’s statement reads“there are a number of contributing factors that lead to teenage pregnancy and births. Among these are: Poverty-It is an indubitable fact that poverty is one of the major causes of teenage pregnancy. The increasing rate of unemployment among many parents has resulted in abject poverty in many deprived areas of the country, forcing them to shirk their responsibility of providing for the needs of their children. Some girls in such areas, in their quest to acquire some money and items to meet their daily needs, are sometimes lured by unscrupulous men into unprotected sex leading to teenage pregnancies and a vicious cycle of poverty.
Lack of information about sexual and reproductive health and rights
A number of young people, especially girls in deprived communities, have been deprived access to education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and this results in a myriad of harmful practices which include teenage pregnancy, early and childhood marriages and gender-based violence.
It has been revealed in a number of studies that divorce has one of the most negative effects on children. Children living in single parent homes are more likely to be pregnant as teenagers, drop out of school and have behavioural issues. In other words, girls who suffer parental neglect or who come from broken homes are more likely to become teenage mothers.
Furthermore, children born to these teenage mothers have a higher chance of giving birth before they reach the age of twenty. This may be due to the lack of proper and adequate training by one or both parents.
Child, early and forced marriage
In many societies, girls are under pressure to marry and bear children. As of 2021, the estimated global number of child brides was 650 million: child marriage places girls at increased risk of pregnancy because girls who are married very early typically have limited autonomy to influence decision-making about delaying child-bearing and contraceptive use. Some girls, in many places, choose to become pregnant because they have limited educational and employment prospects. Often in such societies, motherhood – within or outside marriage/union – is valued, and marriage or union and childbearing may be the best of the limited options available to adolescent girls.
Child sexual abuse increases the risk of unintended pregnancies. A WHO report dated 2020 estimates that 120 million girls aged under 20 years have experienced some form of forced sexual contact.
The serious health, social and economic consequences it poses to individuals, families and communities are dire. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) asserts that many adolescents and young women are prone to several sexual and reproductive health consequences including sexually transmitted infections, repeated pregnancy(ies), sexual and gender-based violence, abuse and exploitation, fistula, and other post-partum reproductive challenges
3.0 Consequences of Teenage Pregnancy
Impact on the education of the girl child
Distinguished Guests, as we strive to empower our youth, we cannot overlook the educational disruptions that are caused by teenage pregnancy. According to the Health and Education Resource Centre of UNESCO, up to 30% of the over 102,000 girls who had dropped out of school (as of 2022) was as a result of teenage pregnancy emanating from social and economic factors.� (I am sure that as I speak, some of you know of friends or relatives who have dropped, or are considering dropping out of school because they are pregnant).
This situation limits opportunities for personal and professional growth because the responsibility of parenthood at such a young age may hinder academic progress and limit future employment prospects, thereby perpetuating a cycle of limited financial stability.
3.2 Emotional and Psychological Challenges
Furthermore, teenagers who get pregnant face emotional and psychological challenges, which include increased stress, anxiety, and social stigma. They may encounter feelings of isolation, depression, a loss of adolescence, and struggle to navigate the complexities of parenthood.
They often face the burden of increased responsibilities, including caring for a child, while simultaneously trying to pursue education or establish a career. This juggling act can limit their opportunities and hinder their ability to reach their full potential. In most cases, a teenage mother is forced to drop out of school in order to fend for her child.
This is worsened by the fact that the state of mind of a teenage mother may not be well developed to handle such emotional and psychological strains. Indeed, I must admit that in my line of work, I have come across countless young girls whose ambitions and aspirations have been cut short because they got pregnant along the way.
I remember that as a child, I witnessed numerous occasions when teenage girls who got pregnant were ridiculed by friends and family members, people who should rather have encouraged them and assured them that all was not lost. In fact, some of these girls were beaten by their own parents for bringing “shame” to their families.
It is sad to note that this situation can perpetuate gender inequalities in our society. This is because while these adolescent mothers often face stigma and discrimination, which limits their opportunities for personal and professional growth, their male counterparts (including those who impregnate them) continue to pursue their education and other endeavours without too many obstacles in their path.
That is why I would urge all of us here, especially my fellow ladies, to take very seriously the issues I am raising this afternoon.
3.3 Impact on the health of the mother
Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the most conspicuous challenges associated with teenage pregnancy is the health risks it has on the teenage mother. Teenage mothers face a higher risk of maternal mortality and complications during childbirth, while their babies are more likely to experience adverse health outcomes.
This is because the young bodies of these girls are often not fully developed to bear the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth, and this can lead to increased health risks for both the mother and the child. Some of the health complications that may arise during pregnancy among teenage girls are higher risk of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, premature births and low birth weights. As a professional nurse myself, I have witnessed at first hand the debilitating risks that teenage mother and their babies go through and it is something that I would not want any of us here to experience.
3.4 Impact on the child
The consequences of teenage pregnancy extend beyond the health of the immediate individuals involved. Children born to teenage parents are more likely to face difficulties, including lower academic achievement, increased risk of poverty, and potential behavioural challenges.
Thus, the cycle of teenage pregnancy can affect future generations and can bring about continuous societal challenges. It is not uncommon to find, especially in less-privileged communities, families riddled with a number of teenage mothers whose children also grow up to continue the cycle, thereby condemning an entire generation into a stinking pool of endemic poverty.
3.5 The Economic Impact of Teenage Pregnancy
Teenage pregnancy has economic implications for both the individual and the nation. Ghana loses millions of Cedis annually in potential earnings due to adolescent pregnancy and childbirth.
This then puts enormous strain on the already over-burdened finances of the country.
4.0 The Way Forward
The best way to protect ourselves from teenage pregnancy is abstinence. Staying away from sex and concentrating on our studies is the best way to curb the menace of teenage pregnancy. Several studies have shown that there is a causal relationship between girl child enrolment in school and teenage pregnancy.� In other words, the more girls we have in the classroom, the fewer number of teenage pregnancies we record. What this means is that, if we want to reduce the incidents of teenage pregnancy in the country, all efforts must be made to increase girl child enrolments in schools around the country.
It is, therefore, refreshing to observe that the Free Senior High School Policy introduced by the Government in 2017 has significantly increased enrolment in various senior high schools across the country and I am glad that you are all beneficiaries.
I would also like to urge our educational authorities and parents to provide our teenagers with accurate, age-appropriate, and comprehensive sex education that covers topics such as contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and the emotional aspects of relationships.
Empowering adolescents with the right knowledge to make informed choices and avoid unplanned pregnancies is key in reducing the consequences of the teenage pregnancy.
My fellow ladies, I would like to plead with you to be content with the little that your parents give you for your upkeep. Sometimes, our insatiable desire for things we know we cannot have at this stage of our lives open us up for some unscrupulous men to take advantage of us, and when pregnancy sets in, these same people will reject the pregnancy and continue with their lives.
If you have already found yourself in this situation, do not throw up your hands in despair, but take inspiration from the stories of great women such as Elvina Felix, whose plans of going to the university and having a career in future seemed to have ended when she got pregnant at the young age of 14 while in grade 7.
However, determined not to give up on her career ambitions, she went back to school the following year to continue with her studies. She became an administrator of the Mayor of the Kouga Municipality in South Africa, a pastor and the founder of Project 1000 Women, a non-profit organisation.
In her words to girls who become pregnant:
“It is not the end of the world. You must keep your head up and still follow your dreams, because it is not only your life anymore – it is both your lives on the line. Do better. Be better.”
Abortion should NEVER be an option because, as Elviva said, “It is not the end of the world.” Oprah Winfrey’s mother was just 18 years when gave birth to her amidst extremely excruciating poverty but she did not consider an abortion and today, Oprah Winfrey has, for over two decades, maintained the enviable record of being the one of the most influential TV hosts of all time and also the richest Black woman in the world. Indeed, Oprah herself also got pregnant at the age of 14 but, like her mother, she also did not consider an abortion.
For this to be possible in our communities, we have to ensure that teenagers have access to affordable and confidential reproductive healthcare services and prenatal care. Support programmes that provide counseling, parenting classes, and vocational training to help young parents navigate the challenges they are faced with during the period. By putting these measures in place, we can work towards better healthcare outcomes for both young mothers and their children.
Furthermore, as advocates for girls’ rights, we must challenge the societal norms that discriminate against teenage mothers and create an environment that values and supports all young individuals, irrespective of their past experiences.
When we see friends, colleagues or relatives in this situation, let us get close to them and offer them all the support we can, instead of gossiping and making fun of them.
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