Lydia Apiah is 30 years old, a perennial smile hidden by the mask, which she wears to prevent the coronavirus when she walks down the street, and two children: a seven-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy. Both were born when she was already an adult. Despite this, no one knows better than Lydia what it is to become pregnant as a teenager. “It happened to me twelve years ago. I didn’t even realize it; my boyfriend’s family noticed. When they told me, they took me to a place that I did not know to have an abortion, ”she recalls. She says that she was very young, that she had hardly any information and that this problem, teenage pregnancy, is a constant even today where she was born and lives: Jamestown.
Jamestown is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Accra, the capital of Ghana, a country located on the Gulf of Guinea and where approximately 25% of its 27 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, according to Unicef data. This statistic is exacerbated in districts like the one where Lydia lives. Jamestown is an amalgamation of peeling-façade colonial buildings, a legacy of the British past of this African country, intertwined with local houses with wooden walls and tin roofs, together forming a somewhat decadent landscape on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It is also home to some 20,000 people. Historically, the people of Jamestown have made a living from the wealth of the sea, from fishing. With the trade dwindling in recent decades, they now survive on the scarce benefits that fish gives and with the small mobile family businesses, so common throughout the country, where 88% of the people live in the so-called informal economy.
The new coronavirus has already left more than 46,000 positive cases and 297 deaths in Ghana and has also caused a chaotic situation that has caused government measures to take place since March. Among them, President Nana Akufo Addo decreed the closure of schools, a decision that has been gradually lifted by school years, without all students having yet returned to classes. With young people having no other chore than staying at home, with parents forced more than ever to go out on the streets to look for money and with an extra difficulty in accessing contraceptive methods, an environment conducive to new unwanted pregnancies is created. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that there will be seven million of them in six months in 114 low- and middle-income countries.
Access to information and family attitude and teachers are vital to school re-entry after giving birth
Lydia works with her sisters, trading merchandise they buy in Togo, the neighboring country, to sell in Ghana, and she says she already knows about a case. She knows of a 15-year-old girl who became pregnant during the country’s partial confinement, which lasted about three weeks and who condemned the inhabitants of the most populated cities (Accra among them) not to be able to leave home. In this sense, the National Population Council revealed at the end of April that during those 21 days, unwanted pregnancies in Ghana rose to 9,000, although the number was not broken down by age.
Lydia also explains that she resides in a large communal house with 20 other people where a 13-year-old girl recently gave birth. “I don’t want something like that for my daughter, that is clear to me. I want her to go to school and study to become a person capable of surpassing her mother ”, she concludes convinced.
The difficulty of going back to school
“The risk is greater now than ever from the pandemic. Not only because here there are fewer media and adults must spend more time on the streets to earn money, but also because there is more ignorance. Young people from neighborhoods like this have more difficult access to information to prevent problems like this, “explains Samuel Lamptey, head of programs Act for Change, a local NGO that has been working since 2011 to improve the lives of young people in Jamestown. “Really, teenage pregnancy is something that is repeated here from generation to generation; when a woman has a daughter at an early age, she is more likely to become a teenage mother as well, ”she says.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 12 million young people between the ages of 15 and 19 and at least 777,000 girls aged 14 and under become mothers each year in developing countries. This organism also affirms that another nine million become pregnant and decide to abort in unsanitary conditions and with little security. Unicef indicatesFurthermore, most of them live in sub-Saharan Africa, where the rate is 200 per 1,000 women, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, with 66.5 births for every 1,000 girls.
To try to stop and raise awareness about the disadvantages of becoming a mother prematurely, Act for Change used to organize workshops and talks in schools, common spaces and churches in the neighborhood, all closed due to the pandemic, so this work has now become impossible to do. And the truth is that Ghana has reason to worry. According to World Bank figuresIn recent years, a rebound in this phenomenon has been observed in the country: in 2013, the percentage of women between 15 and 19 years with children or pregnant women barely reached 13%. In 2016, this figure had grown to 17.8%. Other studies suggest which is accentuated in places like Jamestown and they point out this neighborhood as one of the highest in the country.
Furthermore, adolescent girls in nations such as Ghana can suffer the consequences of this fact especially hard; with a baby they stop going to school and, therefore, their future is painted in a much darker color. Forced to leave school activities due to covid-19, this goodbye may become final. An extensive report published by the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Cape Coast of Ghana in 2017, focused on young girls who drop out of school due to premature pregnancies, indicates that, faced with adolescent mothers, teachers and even fathers, they often develop negative behaviors and perceptions that greatly undermine their re-entry to classes. Said letter also points out the absence of a clear national policy in this regard and emphasizes the attitude of the important actors in the lives of the young women (the husband in case of early marriages, the rest of the students, their family and their community to a lesser extent) as a transcendental factor for this return to occur in a satisfactory way.
“Generally, girls stop going to school when they give birth, but we try to prevent that from happening. It is one of our strongest resolutions, ”continues Lamptey, who also laments the lack of public educational infrastructure in Jamestown; there is only one senior school —Secondary education that begins in Ghana at the age of 15 and lasts for four– for a population of 20,000 people. “The truth is that the problems of neighborhoods like this, such as lack of resources or economic difficulties, do not help at all,” he says.
Machismo as a structural problem
“Another ally for premature pregnancies is the attitude of some guys with their girlfriends. In many relationships, he has the power to decide whether or not to use a condom, and they are practically left without the possibility of discussing anything, “says Collins Seymah, director of Act for Change. “Later, when the baby is born, it is the mother’s family that usually takes care of the little one.” And, as in so many sub-Saharan nations, Ghana also has a remarkable inequality between men and women latent from the earliest ages and accentuated by the lack of opportunities and education. An example: according to the State of the World’s Children 2016 report. An opportunity for every child, by Unicef, 20% of adolescent boys in this country justified the man hitting the woman. Their opinion was almost more worrying: 35% were in favor of this practice.
Ghana experiences a spike in teenage pregnancies; He passed of 13% in 2016 to almost the 18% of end of 2017
Rebeca Vorsah, an 18-year-old from Jamestown, was one of those teenagers fixed on Act for Change workshops before the pandemic closed them down. She has had a boyfriend for a year and says that he does not send her, nor does he tell her what he has or does not have to do, nor does he bury his opinions. And she also says that she likes going to school, especially to study economics, nutrition, science and English. “A friend of mine just got pregnant, but she doesn’t want to leave it when she has the baby. I think you should continue studying. Studying is good for us ”, she concludes.