SPECIAL REPORT: How poor sex education exposes Nigerian teenage girls to pregnancy, STDs

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Seventeen-year-old Rakiya Rabiu, 17, sells groundnut at Bwari, a satellite community in Abuja where she and her her nine months old baby boy live with her aunt.  Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja, Rakiya said she got pregnant at the age of 15 for her water vendor boyfriend, who she started dating a year earlier.

“I got pregnant for Shittu, the father of my son, in 2015. I started dating him when I was 14 years old.

“I live with my aunt here in Bwari and I met Shittu when he came to sell water to my aunt,” she said.

Rakiya said she has never been to school although she had considered enrolling in one. She got pregnant instead, out of ignorance, a factor that, she said, put a dent to her chances of going to school.

Rakiya’s lack of formal education, and indeed of sex education may have contributed largely to her pregnancy. Her case typifies findings of the Nigerian government as it relates to teenage pregnancy.

The Nigerian Demographic and Health Surveys, NDHS, in its latest report in 2013 revealed that 23 per cent of Nigerian teenage girls were already mothers or pregnant with their first child.

The findings of the 2013 survey are similar to that of 2008, with the next survey due in 2018.

The 2013 report stated that one in six (17 per cent) Nigerian girls between the age of 15 and 19 already have a child with another five per cent pregnant with their first child.

THE LOCATION, EDUCATION FACTOR

One of the findings of the survey was that young girls in rural areas were more likely to get pregnant than their counterparts in urban areas.

The proportion of teenage girls who had begun child bearing in rural areas, according to the report, was 32 per cent as compared to 10 per cent in urban areas.

The report also showed variations across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones. The north-west has 36 per cent prevalence of teenage pregnancy, while the south-east and south-west have the lowest prevalence rate with eight per cent each.

Education, including sex education, also plays a major role in preventing teenage pregnancy, the study found.

The survey found that teenagers with no education represent about half of those who had begun childbearing, while only two per cent of teenagers with more than a secondary education have begun childbearing.

Family income was also a major factor with the report finding that teenagers from poorer homes are more likely to be pregnant. Teenagers in the lowest wealth quintile are more than twice as likely to have started childbearing as those in the middle wealth quintile (43 percent and 21 percent, respectively), and almost 10 times as likely as those in the highest quintile.

Rakiya’s ordeal typifies several of the factors identified in the survey.

“Shittu had said he loved me and would marry me after making some money from his water business, so I allowed him to have sex with me and that was the first time,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.

“He lives in my area so we see each other every day and we had sex sometimes if my aunt is not at home. When I became pregnant, it was my aunt that first discovered that I was pregnant. Then I told Shittu that I was pregnant.

“My aunt said he should marry me, he said we would get married after I gave birth.

“However, since the birth of my child, he hasn’t talked about the marriage. I have not even seen Shittu for four months now. People are saying he travelled and I don’t know if he will come back.

“I regret having sex with Shittu because I cannot take care of this child alone. Now he left, without telling me,” she said.

When asked if she was ever taught sex education informally since she never went to school, Rakiya’s response was negative.

“I have never been educated or talked to about sex. I don’t know what condom was or used for until Shittu brought it one day and used it when we were having sex.

“I don’t also know what sexually transmitted diseases are.

“But I have heard my neighbours talk about HIV, that it’s a disease that kills. I regret my action but I pity my aunt most because she cannot chase me out of her house because I don’t have mother again. So, she is taking care of me and the baby.

“I started selling groundnut and sometimes pure water to take care of my son. I love my son and I will take care of him. He will soon start walking well now and he will keep growing,” she said at an interview in March.

SEX EDUCATION HELPS

Like Rakiya, Roselyn Joseph, 16, said she has been in a sexual relationship.

The SS 3 student of a government school in Kubwa, another satellite town of Abuja, however said though she is sexually active, she has never engaged in unprotected sex.

“Yes, I am sexually active. I know a lot about sex because we have a teacher for sex education. I started having sex at age 15 with my boyfriend and we use condom always.

“My boyfriend loves me a lot and I love him too, that is why I agreed to allow him to have sex with me. He is older than me, so I believe anything he tells me. The only reason I feel bad now is because I realized most of my friends are still virgins.

“Our sex education teacher has taught us a lot about the consequences of having sex before marriage. She said we can get pregnant or contact sexually transmitted diseases, which includes HIV,” Roselyn said.

Another teenager, Bolutife Akindele, 15, said she has never engaged in sexual activity mainly because of her sexual education.

“We have been taught a lot about sex in school,” the SS2 student of a government school in Kurudu, an Abuja suburb, said.

“Our teacher said if we have sex when we are not legally married, we can contact diseases like AIDS and also we can get pregnant. And I don’t want to get pregnant because I don’t want my mates to leave me behind.

“I have a future and I am concentrating on that. We are also taught to dress well to avoid harassment from men because you are addressed the way you are dressed.

“Also, apart from the knowledge I received from my teacher, my religion frowns against sex before marriage, so I won’t engage in it.”

Like Bolutife, Grace Onwukwe, a 15-year-old student of a government school in Dutse, also in Abuja, said she is not sexually active but has knowledge about it.

“I know sex is the intimate relationship between a man and a woman. I was taught in school and even among my friends that sex is meant for only married couples.

“So, I will wait till I get married before having sex with my husband. Another reason is because I don’t want to contact HIV. My teacher said it can be contacted through sexual relationships”.

AN AGENCY’S DUTY

One agency responsible for ensuring sexual education among Nigerian youth and adults is the National Agency for the Control of Aids, NACA.

A senior programme officer for NACA, Hafsatu Aboki, said the agency was concerned by the reports on teenage pregnancy.

Mrs. Aboki, whose agency took part in the survey, said the reports are evidence that young people are still engaged in unprotected sex despite the agency’s effort to stop the practice.

“As it is widely known, HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sex where one partner is already infected. This is one of the issues we are trying to address in our programming. We have a programme that focuses on adolescents and young people.”

The official said the agency has stepped up its efforts to educate teenagers about unprotected sex so as to reduce teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

“Exactly a year ago, we launched the National HIV Strategy for adolescent and young people,” she said.

“The strategy focuses on all adolescents and young people in Nigeria, both those in the rural and urban settings, whether they are in school or out of school, whether they are what we termed high-risk population or otherwise, they are all covered by this strategy.

“We also have prevention interventions that are supposed to bring about positive behaviour change, like engagement in low risk sex, reduction of sexual partners, reducing early sex; that is, young people should abstain from sex till they are older. All these are part of the interventions that as a programme, we have designed for young people (with the involvement of young people).”

Mrs. Aboki said her agency has a “minimum prevention package” that uses three approaches.

“First, we are trying to address behaviour by giving information to young people, telling them about HIV and how it can be transmitted and how it can prevented.

“Also, giving them biomedical interventions, such as HIV Testing Services (HTS), condoms and treating sexual transmitted infections which predispose a person to HIV infection. The third approach is to provide structural interventions meant to address vulnerability.”

She said the intervention would address social and cultural norms in the society such as “stigma, discrimination, as well as empower young people”.

She also identified early marriage as a problem, making reference to a finding in the survey that about 40 per cent of young girls are married by the time they are 18 years of age.

The official acknowledged that in order to reduce the percentage of young people engaging in unprotected sex, information and education must improve.

She said the survey also found that while awareness about HIV is high, most young people don’t have comprehensive knowledge about the virus.

“It goes from HIV awareness at about 90 per cent to comprehensive knowledge at less than 30 per cent among young women. Risk perception is low. So if you ask adolescents age between 15-19 how they place their own HIV risk, most say that they are at either very low or no risk of acquiring HIV.

“Surprisingly, even those that are engaging in high-risk behaviours consider themselves to be at low risk of HIV.

“That is something that needs to be addressed by targeted communication to young people. It should be targeted in its content, so that what we are saying is something that is addressing the information needs of the population”, she said.


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