Teenage pregnancy in Africa

December 27, 2015

This holiday season will bring another leap in accidental teenage pregnancies in Africa, in a continent that is need of proper sex education to tackle a problem that is ruining too many lives.It is a holiday season that see the usual warnings from authorities about the problem of unplanned pregnancies among teenagers. The concern is sparked because young lovers often associate the occasion with sex.Sub Saharan Africa’s inadequate sex education means that teenage sex encounters lead to unplanned pregnancies. Last year, on average 1600 out of every 100,000 girls under the age of 18 became pregnant, a far higher ratio than the World Health Organisation average of 15 per 100,000. Also, an average of 2900 in every 100,000 girls in Sub Saharan Africa under the age of 15 gave birth in 2013. Teenage pregnancies lead to a comparatively high rate of abortions, stillbirths and deaths of the mothers and newborns. Every year an estimated 29 million girls aged 15 to 19 undergo unsafe abortions in Sub Saharan Africa, which contributes to a high rate of maternal deaths as well as lasting health problems for the mothers.In Sub Saharan Africa, the legal minimum age for girls to marry is 18, allowing most teenage women to wed legally. Since one of the main legal and social functions of marriage is to legitimise sexual relations and to encourage the sharing of childcare, it would be strange to facilitate marriage for women aged 18 but most of them start engaging in sex and pregnancy seven years before they attain that age according to various conducted this year.

A serious analysis of the causes of teenage sex and pregnancy reveal that the most influential factors are long standing customs, such as the expectation in agricultural communities that women will marry and procreate and more than 70% of Sub Saharan Africa is agriculture reliant.Of course, these customs might be considered outdated like the Maasai culture I highlighted recently.Africa economists see teenage pregnancy as an obstacle to increasing the average length of time that women spend in full-time education.The region is seeing a rising number of unwanted teenage pregnancies indicated by the increase in demand for abortions. In 2013, the family planning organisations in the region helped more than 30,000 teenage girls have safe abortions, an increase from 2012 where there were less than 11,300.One study indicates that the number of patients requesting medical abortions is usually twice that of the clinic’s capacity, indicating that the number of unwanted pregnancies among teenagers that could not be aborted is much higher. Another requirement is that teenage pregnancy should not exceed three months. In most cases, unwanted pregnancies are related to contraception, either because the reproductive-age couples are not disciplined or they don’t use contraception at all, or the contraception fails to work properly.There is a high number of teenage couples who prefer not to use contraception. Studies in Kenya and South Africa have shown how teenagers there are relying on the calendar system and coitus interruptus method, both of which are not very reliable in preventing pregnancy.

There were also many unmarried couples who go to clinic for abortions, but clinics in Kenya and South Africa refuse to provide them with the service. Instead, clinic staff offer the couples counseling aimed at convincing them to have the child. However, when those clinic receives teenagers with unwanted pregnancies, they assist them especially those who are raped. In South Africa, on average, 450 patients with unwanted pregnancies visit such a clinic per month. That equates to 41 percent of total patients received such clinics per month.There have been efforts to reduce dangerous, illegal abortions,according to study authors but that hasn’t bore much fruits.The number of teenage patients going to such clinics for abortions was always high compared to those who came for other treatment and they do help teenagers by giving counselling and assistance to talk to their parents. In Nigeria, most teenage girls believe they may well be better-off pursuing further education than marrying young. After all, there are millions of grandmothers in Nigeria who first gave birth during their teenage years and have gone on to raise happy families who respect and love them. And no doubt millions of teenage women who become first-time mothers will go on to work hard and raise equally happy families and become equally loved and respected. To me, it seems frivolous to wilfully forget all these African teenage girls in order to indulge in gossipy innuendoes about the evils of teenage sex.The first point education offered to teenagers is to continue the pregnancy and the second one is to educate teenagers about contraception.

In many cases, abortion was carried out because pregnancies were the result of contraception failure, rape, incest or severe mental problems.Abortions are also carried out for high-risk pregnancies and genetically disabled foetus.Many unwanted pregnancies end up undergoing unsafe abortions because there is no access and regulation.According to statistics in my possession, the number of unsafe abortions in Sub Saharan Africa reached 490,000 to 1 million per year, 17 percent of which resulted in the deaths of mothers.If African countries could not provide access for safe abortions, then they should try to reduce discrimination against teenagers experiencing unwanted pregnancies, such as by allowing them to continue their education. Presently, pregnant teenagers are usually expelled from school due to “bad conduct” and most of them drop out of schools with Nigeria, followed by South Africa and Kenya being the most affected according to statistics although the authors of the new report believes the three countries are transparent in data they provide unlike others who dont even have records. There is no need of making sweeping generalisations to condemn teenage sex as a problem in Africa comparable to sexual abuse or HIV/AIDS.According to different studies, health experts blames high rates of teen pregnancies in Sub Saharan Africa on adolescents’ lack of knowledge of how to avoid becoming pregnant and on the unavailability of contraceptives.

Sadly, even where contraceptives are widely available like in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, sexually active adolescents are less likely to use them than adults according to research conducted in 2013 which noted that failure to use contraceptives especially condoms has led to high rates of sexually transmitted disease, including HIV, among teenagers in Africa.I strongly believe that parents, guardians, teachers and others responsible for the care of teenagers in Africa should try to make teens aware that they’re still too young and inexperienced to take on parenting. Teenagers who get pregnant put their academic progress at risk, having to leave school either because they’re expelled or because they must look after their child. Those from poor families are then often stuck in a cycle of poverty, unable to gain the academic qualifications that could lead to a better life. Unplanned pregnancies also lead to abortions or abandonment of newborns, which in turn causes more problems and financial burdens for society. The problem of accidental pregnancies in Sub Saharan Africa will only be effectively tackled when teens get proper education about sex, the use of contraceptives, and particularly condoms, and basic family planning. Also, I do believe that involvement in extra curricular activities like sports, volunteer work and academic achievement are useful ways to divert energetic teenagers’ thoughts away from sexual pursuits they might regret.In my case, never had sex as a teenager thanks to parenting guidance and I believe if those in charge of teenagers take up their responsibility, the continent will have less problems in the future.

Contador Harrison