Secrets Behind Teenage Pregnancy: Who’s Responsible?

Teenage pregnancy is becoming a hot topic when discussing girls’ education. Dave and Amy have both written blogs responding to two proposed solutions: providing condoms and birth control (Uganda), and improving maternal and child health programs (Sahel). Amy’s post Tuesday quoted UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin who names little or no access to school as a factor contributing to teenage pregnancy. What if the schools themselves are contributing to teen pregnancy?

I recently found an article tucked away in a local newspaper from Botswana. It reports on a secondary school in central Botswana where a group of male students are threatening to take action in response to male teachers who are, “taking away their girlfriends”. Students at the school anonymously wrote a letter to the headmaster naming seven teachers involved in inappropriate relationships with female students at the school. This situation is not the first in Botswana, as the article reports. The school has asked both teachers and students to come forward with evidence so that proper disciplinary measures can be taken. I have found no follow up article.

You won’t find stories like this covered by the larger, international papers, perhaps because no one wants to admit it’s actually happening. Still, local reports allude to such behavior in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. Last month a member of Parliament in Kenya, John Muchiri, publicly commented on the rising cases of romantic relationships between teachers and schoolgirls and called it “shameful” and “irresponsible”. Unfortunately, Muchiri’s statement was only given one line of attention. Apparently no one thought it important to comment on Muchiri’s observation.

I spent four years teaching in Tanzania and I can testify that it is a regular occurrence there. In Tanzania, and I suspect these other nations, teachers force students to sleep with them in exchange for good grades. I personally know a young woman who got pregnant from her teacher. Luckily she was only months away from graduating and was able to hide her pregnancy until she had taken her final exam. I say “luckily” because Tanzania regularly expels students for getting pregnant.

Handing out condoms will only stop girls from becoming pregnant and maternal health care will only help them afterwards. I suggest a better strategy would be changing the source of why they are getting pregnant. How is it that girls are held responsible but not teachers? Inappropriate relationships with teachers do seem to raise alarm however, when it is with boys. An article in a Zimbabwean newspaper a few weeks ago reported on a teacher accused of sodomizing 10 young boys. The end of the article states, “According to Zimbabwean law, non-consensual same-sex behavior […] can lead to maximum life in prison if convicted.” If these students had been girls, would it have still raised the same alarm? To me, the tolerance of this hidden practice shows just how far we still have to go before girls everywhere are valued the same as boys.

Sources:

(October 25, 2013). I boys to men. The Voice. Retrieved from http://www.thevoicebw.com/2013/10/25/i-boys-to-men/.

Githinji, R. (October 16, 2013). MP warns teachers over sex with students. The Star. Retrieved from http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/article-139780/mp-warns-teachers-over-sex-students.

Xinhua (October 31, 2013). Zimbabwe teacher arrested for allegedly sodomizing 10 minors. Daily Monitor. Retrieved from http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/World/Zimbabwe-teacher-arrested-for-allegedly-sodomizing-10-minors/-/688340/2055128/-/umdy7t/-/index.html.

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More Money for Maternal Health

Dave reported a few weeks ago about Tanzania and Uganda’s vastly different responses to teen pregnancy and the countries’ slow progress towards the 5th Millennium Development Goal. Apparently they are not the only countries projected to miss the goal, and the development world has taken notice (none too soon, I may add).

After a trip through the Sahel region of Africa (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal), the UN and World Bank pledged $200 million over the next two years to improving maternal and child health programs, according to both the UN News Centre and The World Bank’s website.  Initiated as a response to Niger’s “Call to Action,” the money will go to funding the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographics Project, which works to raise the age of marriage, keep girls in school and enable women to choose the amount of children they want and when they want to have them.

The money is coming after the UNFPA released the State of World Population 2013 report, which found that out of 7.3 million births 2 million were from girls under the age of 14 and 70,000 girls from developing countries die each year as a result of complications from child birth, according to another article from the UN News Centre. The best thing to come from the report is the realization that the girl is not the only one to blame in the case of teen pregnancy. UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin is quoted as saying:

“Too often, society blames only the girl for getting pregnant. The reality is that adolescent pregnancy is most often not the result of deliberate choice, but rather the absence of choices, and of circumstances beyond the girl’s control. It is the consequence of little or no access to school, employment, quality information and health care.”

I see this investment by the World Bank and the UN as a good first step so long as the money is not solely used to buy and distribute condoms or run a class for sexual health, as has been done in the past.  Not that these initiatives are completely useless, but a combination of education and economic opportunity needs to be presented to these girls so they know how to prevent pregnancy and know that other alternatives are out there for their future.  And it must not be solely focused on the girl. While her education is imperative, the attitudes within the society must be addressed as well.  The society must view girls as potentially productive members and must value that potential so that girls are encouraged to stay in school, young mothers have support systems and girls have access to reproductive health information.

The article goes on to state economic reasons for countries to invest in preventing pregnancy in young girls.  In a country like Kenya, the UNFPA estimates that if the 200,000 teen moms were employed instead of getting pregnant, the country would earn an extra $3.4 billion.  While this plays to the human capitalist inside of me (as shown by last week’s post about the MDGs and human capital), the statistic seems a bit pessimistic.  Just because a woman has a baby at a young age (or what the west considers a young age) does not mean that she will not become a productive member of society, as defined in economic terms.  Yes, the odds are against her and yes, statistics do show that most teen moms do not go on to finish schooling but this says to me that their potential has been wasted and that may not be true.  Yet again, girls need to be educated on these issues and societal views need to change so that girls can reach their full potential, even if that does mean still choosing to have a young family.

Pledging $200 million to empowering women is a fete since previously the global community only gives two cents out of every dollar spent on development to adolescent girls. Whether this is enough to change the attitude of the societies towards valuing women, we will have to wait and see.

Sources used:

‘Motherhood in childhood,’ new UN report, spotlights adolescent pregnancy. (2013, October 30). UN News Center. Retrieved November 10, 2013, from http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/http%3Cspan%20class=’pullme’%3EIt%20has%20become%20increasingly%20clear%20that%20disasters%20are%20setting%20back%20efforts%20in%20development%20–%20they%20can%20cripple%20the%20econo

The World Bank. (2013, November 6).UN, World Bank Support ‘Call to Action’ for Women’s Health, Girls’ Education in the Sahel. Retrieved November 10, 2013, from http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/11/06/un-world-bank-call-to-action-women-health-girl-education-sahel

UN, World Bank boost support for women’s health, girls’ education in Africa’s Sahel. (2013, November 6). UN News Center. Retrieved November 10, 2013, from http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/http%3Cspan%20class=’pullme’%3EIt%20has%20become%20increasingly%20clear%20that%20disasters%20are%20setting%20back%20efforts%20in%20development%20–%20they%20can%20cripple%20the%20economy,%20destroy%20infrastructure,%20and%20plunge%20more%20people%20into%20poverty%3C/span%3E://www.unisdr.org/www.iaea.org/story.asp?NewsID=46432&Cr=sahel&Cr1=