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Sex Education: Breaking the Cycle of Teenage Pregnancy in Nigeria

Teenage pregnancy can be considered pregnancy that occurs in girls aged 18 and below. In Nigeria, especially in rural areas, teenage pregnancy occurs a lot.
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Teenage pregnancy can be considered pregnancy that occurs in girls aged 18 and below. In Nigeria, especially in rural areas, teenage pregnancy occurs a lot. Girls who are meant to be in school focusing on their education are put in the family way, most times by their peers and people way older than them. In a study conducted by Reproductive health in 2024, it was stated that the prevalence of adolescent pregnancy is between 7.5 and 49.5%. In Nigeria, only 20% of girls who got pregnant as a teenager go back to school to further their education. Most of them do not have the zeal to go back after all the stress that comes with motherhood. Some are ashamed to join their mates or start all over, and the societal stigma surrounding teenage pregnancy can lead to school dropout. However, teenage pregnancy and childbirth negatively impact the individual and the society at large. Let’s take a look at the factors contributing to teenage pregnancy.

Poverty is one of the biggest factors contributing to teenage pregnancy in Nigeria. Adolescents from low-income households may engage in early sexual activity as a means of financial survival or to escape difficult living conditions. Some teenage from humble backgrounds are easily ensnared with little gifts and food items through which they can be leisure into premarital sex. This mostly happens when parents can’t provide for those basic needs. Their children fall prey outside and some are confronted with rape through hawking and looking for means of survival.

Lack of comprehensive sex education is also another factor contributing to teenage pregnancy and early childbirth. Many adolescents lack accurate information about reproductive health, contraception, and the consequences of early sexual activity, leaving them vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies. Most parents do not take their time to give their children accurate sex education. Furthermore, because of the limited time available in schools, teachers do not go deep into sex education as well. Teenagers who have little or no knowledge about sex education are more likely to have unintended sex. Some teens do not fully understand the biological and emotional aspects associated with having sex. These teens may get incorrect information from videos, friends, and movies. Many teenagers do not have the necessary information needed to make informed decisions about whether to engage in sexual activities that can alter their lives. A study by Okafor in 1997 portrayed ignorance as one of the factors responsible for pregnancies among teenagers. The more information teenagers have about sex, the less likely they may have unprotected sex and engage in sexual experimentation prematurely.

Gender-based violence, such as sexual abuse, rape, exploitation, and early marriage, increases the risk of teenage pregnancy among Nigerian adolescents. The Guttmacher Institute reports that 5% of all teenage pregnancies are as a result of pain. It was also stated that between 42 and 63 percent of teenagers acknowledge that they were impregnated by an adult male, and two-third report that their babies’ fathers are as old as 27 years old. The report also stated that 60% of teenage mothers had unwanted sexual experiences (rape) which led to their pregnancy. Furthermore, up to 70% of women who gave birth in their teens were molested as young girls. In rural and underdeveloped areas of the country, some teenagers are forced into early marriage as a result of rape, ignorance, or culture. This can also result in teenage pregnancy and early childbirth.

During adolescence, teenagers often feel pressure to make friends and fit into their cycle. They tend to do what their friends do and allow their friends to influence their decision about having sex even when they do not fully understand the consequences for their actions. In some cases, teenagers have sex as a way to appear cool to their friends and fit into the friendship cycle, whereas most times, the result is early teenage pregnancy. The Kaiser Family Foundation stated that more than 29 percent of pregnant teens reported that they feel pressured to have sex and 33 percent of pregnant teens report that they feel that they were not ready for a sexual relationship but proceeded regardless because they feared rejection and ridicule.

Many parents have busy lives that prevent them from providing timely guidance to their young teenage girls. They are busy and do not have the time to provide support and advice that their young teenagers need to make informed decisions on issues such as sex. When a teenager feels that they have no parent or guardian to talk to about sex and their body because they are not around, or they are in a home where sex talk is forbidden, they are more likely to turn to friends who also have limited appropriate information and knowledge.

As much as technology is a blessing as it has helped students have access to timely information about their education, it is also a major contribution to teenage pregnancy and early childbirth. Adolescents who are more exposed to sexuality in the media are more likely to want to experiment and engage in sexual activity themselves. According to the Time, “teens exposed to the most sexual content on TV are twice as likely as teenagers watching less of these materials to become pregnant before they reach the age of 20.”

Research has shown that women exposed to abuse, domestic violence and family strife during childhood are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers and the risk of becoming pregnant as a teenager increases with the number of adverse childhood experiences. Studies have also found that boys who grew up in homes with a battered mother or who experienced physical violence directly, are more likely to impregnate a girl.

Teenage pregnancy and early childbirth have a serious impact on the child, the mother, and the society at large.

Early childbirth often disrupts the education of adolescent girls, limiting their opportunities for personal and professional development. School dropout rates are higher among pregnant adolescents. This can increase the cycles of poverty and inequality and hinder efforts to achieve universal education and gender equality.

Low educational expectations have been identified as a risk factor of teenage pregnancy. A girl who is not so educated and has a mother that is illiterate is also more likely to become pregnant as a teenager if the mother also gave birth in her teens.

Teenage pregnancy can also come with lots of health risks for both mothers and their babies. Adolescents are also more likely to experience pregnancy-related complications including higher rates of maternal mortality, complications during childbirth, low birth weight infants, preeclampsia, obstetric fistula, and postpartum depression.

Teenage pregnancy is frequently stigmatized in Nigeria. Most teens cannot continue with their education and daily life due to the stigmatisation that comes with giving birth very early. Adolescent girls may face, discrimination, ostracism, social exclusion, and negative attitudes from their families, communities, and peers. Adolescent mothers from low-income families may struggle to meet the financial costs of childcare, healthcare, and education.

In conclusion, to reduce the risk of teenage pregnancy and early childbirth, comprehensive sex education should be more enforced in schools, communities, and religious settings. Adolescents should be provided with accurate information and counselling about reproductive health, contraception, and sexual consent and not just myths. These programs should be age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, and should include different perspectives and experiences. Girl child education and gender equality should be promoted more in rural and marginalised areas.

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