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Friday, July 25, 2014

Youth pregnancy in Ghana: The perspective of a national volunteer

by Atiim Justice
 

If I asked my peers how they would react if they found out today that they were pregnant or had made someone pregnant, the majority of them would definitely see that as unwelcoming news, whilst only a couple I know would be in very jubilant mood.
For those who would consider such news as unwelcoming, their reasons will range from, I am too young, I am in school, I do not have job, the economy is bad etc.

Majority of my peers are graduates, undergraduates, or in employment, yet they will give the excuse that goes as follows, ‘I am not ready to raise a child’ and so many others. 

What then should a Junior High school pupil from the poorest region of Ghana say? Probably your wish will be that, they see it as a dreadful thing and flee miles away from activities that result in such situations because you are thinking almost certainly that they would know that getting someone pregnant or getting impregnated comes with extra responsibilities.
Girl students: Our target audience in Nayorku
This however, is not the case; the youth of Ghana in particular those of Northern Ghana often get into early parenthood partly due to early marriages but largely as a result of teenage pregnancy. In Ghana, according to Ghana Health Service (GHS, 2012) 750,000 teenagers between the age 15-19 get pregnant annually.
The issue of teenage pregnancy has resulted in the increase in the number of girls who were previously privileged to be in school to drop out from school hence hampering the efforts of promoting girl-child education in Ghana - because teenage pregnancy truncates an individual’s progress into higher education. This problem is particularly hindering the efforts of bringing development to the Northern part of Ghana, especially development through education which I believe is the true way of empowering people. Medically, teenage pregnancy also leads to health complications such as the development of sexually transmitted infections like HIV/AIDS.

How do teenagers learn about sex?

It is a natural desire to have well spelled out rules as to what to do and what not to do with regards to teenage pregnancy, it is every young person’s desire to have answers to questions about this sensitive topic. However, majority of Ghanaian teenagers lack access to information about reproductive health problems. 

The problem is accelerated due to poor communication between parents and their children because the parents find it inappropriate to talk to their children as they grow into adolescence and it is not in the Ghanaian culture (which is not very dynamic) to discuss such a sensitive topic. Therefore, most teenagers in Ghana tend to rely so much on their own instincts, the advice of their peers or get information from unreliable sources.
This Abstinence sign is typical in Ghana

To make the situation worse, in our educational system, less emphasis is placed on sexual and reproductive health classes and rather it is regarded as a situation that would “spoil” pupils. Young as we all are or were, we all love to try whatever we see on the television and internet. Movies, magazines and the internet tend to serve more as the learning avenues for the students because their parents think otherwise about discussing the issue of sex with them.

To further worsen the situation, the same Ghanaian culture abhors the discussion or education of the youth about the availability and benefits of contraception; rather it encourages abstinence. This call for abstinence has failed to yield dividends after all these years, day in day out we still hear reports of how the incidence of teenage pregnancy shatters the dreams of many youth in our communities. The only real step towards encouraging contraceptive use is using condoms to prevent HIV, with the well known 3 step rules of ABC. A= abstinence, B = be faithful, C= use a condom. See how abstinence and faithfulness come first.

Attitudes to contraception

The main purpose of most contraceptives is to help decrease incidences of unplanned pregnancy; however, its perception in the African continent is very low. Numerous misconceptions loom around the idea of contraception. Due to the lack of proper information about contraceptives, pregnant teenage girls resort to abortion. But the problem here is that they seek help from an unprofessional hence leading to increased health complications and sometimes death. 

Interestingly, I did not know there were any days such day as “World Contraception Day (WCD), until I was tasked to come up with this write-up. World Contraception Day is celebrated on 26th September each year with the vision for a world where every pregnancy is wanted. Its mission is to improve awareness of contraception to enable young people to make informed decisions on sexual and reproductive health.” WCD 2013 focused on empowering young people to think ahead and build contraception into their future plans, in order to prevent an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Contraception Methods
There are many different types of contraceptive to choose from, even in Ghana

Knowing how injurious teenage pregnancy is to the nations quest to empower its youth through education, the concept of contraception helping to reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancy is on the rise. This is where the RAINS-ICS team comes in to play. We are working on defying all the odds to drum home the message of contraception by initiating a project dubbed “Safe Choices” which has being running for the past one year.

Our Past work
A cross section of my audience at the awareness creation event in Nayorku

As a member of the team that was tasked to do this last cohort, we held two class room sessions for the Junior High School pupils of the Nayorku community in the West Mamprusi district of Northern Ghana. This community is plagued with a high incidence of pregnancy among its teenagers, a concern recognized by their chief. 

Whilst we were delivering these classroom sessions, a final year pupil was heavily pregnant. The questions that immediately came up for me were, ‘Can she effectively learn? Can she effectively take care of her baby since she got impregnated by a fellow pupil?’. Hmmmmmm…How I wish we had stepped in to provide this education earlier so as to help this girl escape this situation which she suggested was affecting her.

It is our hope that, small efforts such as ours and others elsewhere will succeed in creating the much needed awareness that can help reduce the incidences of teenage girls limiting their education attainment due to pregnancy.
Could they be victim of teenage pregnancy? I pray not
    
What next?

In conclusion, I think there should be enforcement put in place in making sure that there are sexual and reproductive health classes to target teenagers in every school in Ghana and also parents should also be educated in regards to communicating with their children about sex and related topics. The use of contraceptives should also be accepted as a means of putting an end to the problems associated with unprotected sex, which needs to be embraced not only by girls, but of boys too. After all, it takes both sexes to create a child.

This cohort we will be continuing with our efforts by bringing our focus to rural communities in the Savelugu-Nanton municipality of Northern Ghana. Our plans include not only awareness sessions regarding contraception, but also establishing peer educators within these communities, and a sustainable access to birth control methods for these communities. 

Our hope: for these communities to experience only the rarest cases of teenage pregnancy and to free up the youth for a better tomorrow.