Adolescent Pregnancy: What the High Rates Reveal about Our Society
“He pressured me to drink and introduced me to drugs. We then had intercourse, and he impregnated me.”
What do we know about adolescent pregnancy?
First, let’s understand by definition what adolescent pregnancy is. Adolescent pregnancy, also known as teenage pregnancy, is pregnancy in a woman aged 10–19 years (WHO, 2004). To this day, adolescent pregnancy is regarded as a global health issue, especially in developing countries. For instance, at least 10 million unintended pregnancies occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15–19 years in the developing world ( Darroch et al., 2016). Rwanda is facing a gradual increase in teenage pregnancy rates. So what is the cause of this issue? The truth is there isn’t one cause that can be attributed to adolescent pregnancy because it is a combination of different but also interrelated factors. Each individual has their own story; however, some common causes are poverty, low education levels, and lack of correct information and access to Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH).
Poverty, as a cause of teenage pregnancy, is manifested in different scenarios. An example of a typical scenario is when a man lures a young girl student with money or small gifts ranging from donuts, soda to a phone, etc. Some girls who grew up in poverty are easily impressed by little things, especially for something they don’t possess and wish they had. In such cases, men with bad intentions take advantage of the easily impressionable girls to coerce them into having sex. A study found that girls often feel a sense of obligation to give in to a man or boy’s request, in that they are expected to provide sex in exchange for the gifts he gives them.
In most cases, sex happens without the girl’s full consent (Girl Effect Rwanda, 2020). It wouldn’t be a shock to learn that some girls are not aware men abused them. Poverty and low levels of education or even lack of education make young girls vulnerable to give in to peer pressure and ill-intended men or boys. As a result, they are unable to say no or negotiate for safe sex.
Over the past few years, enhancing Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (ASRH) in Rwanda was made a national priority to reverse the teenage pregnancy trends. Generally, sexually active young people are aware of condoms and basic SRH services, but they rarely have the right and full information. The reason behind that is the social stigma associated with having premarital sex. Culturally, premarital sex is not only stigmatized but also considered taboo to talk about sex. Usually, young girls and boys are supposed to learn about how their bodies change when they hit puberty or sex from their parents or guardians, but they don’t. Most parents are uncomfortable talking about sex with their children, and in other cases, some parents do not have the right information. As a result, children feel discouraged to discuss sexuality-related issues with their parents or guardians openly. Religious affiliations do not help either by encouraging the notion of the bible of filling the world.
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”Genesis 1:28 KJV
On the other hand, we have religious leaders preaching about abstinence, yet there is irrefutable evidence that some people are not abstaining. According to the 2014-2015 report from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), 23.6% of young girls aged 18-19 admitted to having had sexual intercourse before 18. 28.1% of their male counterparts admit to the same. Where do we go from here? Don’t get me wrong; I firmly believe it is more than okay if you can abstain, but what about those that are not abstaining and adamantly refuse to protect themselves? Can we afford to fill the world with children?
Let’s determine the consequences of adolescent pregnancy on young girls and how society responds to it.
Girls mostly bear the consequences of adolescent pregnancy compared to boys—those consequences they have to deal with range from health, social, and economic issues. First, there is the shock they feel when they learn about pregnancy. Then there are health complications they deal with throughout their pregnancy and after, such as pregnancy-induced hypertension, postpartum depression, eclampsia, and so on. There is also a shame that comes when some families reject them, and they tend to feel isolated from their communities often because they are then shunned or called names. How is the father affected by this? Generally, when the father is below 18 years old, they don’t go to jail. In other cases, when they are above 18, they are sent to prison either because a complaint was filed by the impregnated girl or sometimes because the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) arrested them after investigating admissions in medical centers. A study found that boys generally do not acknowledge their pregnancy responsibility out of fear of being imprisoned (if they have engaged in sex with an underage girl) or forced to provide for the child and the mother (Girl Effect Rwanda, 2020).
In most cases, teen mothers are left to raise their child alone, and if she is unlucky to come from a low-income household or abandoned by her family, life gets complicated with a baby. Although some fathers do acknowledge their children, they don’t consistently provide support. Only a small number of fathers decide to start a family and raise their child together under the same roof. So, what happens when it is time for teen mothers to reintegrate back to society? When teen mothers get pregnant while in school, they drop out, and it sometimes becomes difficult for them to go back. In cases where they have been chased from their homes or abandoned by their child’s fathers, they are the sole providers for their child, and they can’t afford to go back to school. Consequently, some of the teen mothers’ dreams and aspirations for the future are shattered, and that being so, they are susceptible to give in to transactional sex to make money.
What is being done
In 2019, Imbuto Foundation, founded by Her Excellency, Mrs. Jeannette Kagame, injected $30,000 funds in outstanding youth-led projects to address teenage pregnancies. The foundation invests in designing and implementing regional commitments, youth-friendly policies, legal and institutional frameworks to preserve Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) rights. Some of the Imbuto Foundation initiatives in partnership with other organizations include the iAccelator, a program that encourages youth-led innovation. The program will implement the top 3 innovations that aim to avail adolescent sexual reproductive health information & services to prevent teenage pregnancies. Among those innovations is the Keza game, an edutainment game application that encourages positive attitudes and behavior towards adolescent sexual reproductive health, using a character named ‘Keza.’ The game is to be launched in early 2021 (UNFPA, 2020). Among many other programs, there are school-based programs that aim to teach on SRH. For instance, the further development of Biology and Health Sciences classes from senior three to six classes (Nkurunziza et al., 2020). However, the discomfort and taboo with SRH in the context of teachers and students hinder the programs’ success.
Call to Action
There is a growth in the population of adolescents in Rwanda and we can’t afford to fill the world. If adolescent pregnancy is not dealt with, more babies will be born from mothers who will most likely struggle to have ends meet, and the vicious cycle will continue. This issue is not exclusive to Rwanda; in some African countries, adolescent pregnancy is even more significant. As the saying goes, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. I urge you to be part of the solution. Start by educating yourself, then inform others on SRH. Look for information from relevant sources and think innovatively about how YOU can contribute to finding a solution. Let us join hands to prevent adolescent pregnancy.
Darroch J, Woog V, Bankole A, Ashford LS. (2016). Retrieved December 9, 2020, from https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/adding-it-up-adolescents-report.pdf