Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Shine Your Eyes! Zip Up & Speak Out!


Have you ever wondered why some teenage schoolgirls get trapped with pregnancy, even when they know too well that they are not prepared for motherhood and its multiple challenges? Tope Adetola took the lid off the pot at the June 2016 edition of our girls mentoring meeting as she led us into the thought process and inquisitiveness of an average teenage girl.
The event was the monthly summit of the Girls’ Arise Initiative, held at Ijegun in the Ikotun area of Alimoso local government of Lagos state. Sharing her true life story, Tope, a very committed volunteer with Bestspring Children & Youth Development Foundation explained that it is natural for every child, especially as he/she approaches puberty, to be extremely inquisitive and want to know what it is that makes adults thick.
“I got pregnant at the age of 17, shortly after l finished my secondary school program and was waiting for admission into tertiary institution. Of course, I was not prepared for motherhood. All I know is that when I was in SSS 2, I discovered that I was odd amongst my friends; so l decided to know what special thing they were doing that made them ‘Big Girls”, hence I started dating a guy. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was pregnant. I was a very brilliant and ambitious girl and wanted to study Business Administration. Incidentally, by the time my admission letter came, I was already pregnant and had to forfeit it. I had to sit back at home for some time and bear the shame of teenage pregnancy”, she narrated.

Unfortunately for Tope, it was just one fling that resulted in the pregnancy. She did not even know she was pregnant until neighbours around told her. The man involved was a jobless young chap from an indigent family who was totally dependent on his parents and had no means of taking care of Tope and the unborn baby.

So, Tope had no choice but to take full responsibility and bear the brunt of her action. It was no doubt a devastating experience for her and her parents who had to bear the burden of taking care of her all through the period of pregnancy and even after the baby was born. Thankfully, they did not give up on her but encouraged her to put in for another entry examination into the higher institution (JAMB). Luckily, she passed the examination and secured admission. After nursing the baby for about one year, Tope was able to return to school and purse her dream, which was to study Business Administration. Today, Tope Adetola, now married with two other children is a Marketing Executive in one of the leading financial institutions in Lagos. She is thankful that she had a second chance, an opportunity she admits many schoolgirls caught in the web of teenage pregnancy do not ever get. She reels out warnings to teenage girls “Don’t do anything that will not add value to your life. 

Ensure you have good and godly counselors, role-models to confide in. Don’t go to dark or solitary places alone to meet a boy or man, it is very dangerous because you might be raped. Watch the kind of friends you keep and don’t ever be too confident or take things for granted.Taking a cue from this, I seized the opportunity as the convener of Girls Arise Initiative to engage the girls at the summit on the need to be focus on their education as it is a very powerful tool for the empowerment of women and girls to enable them stand tall as policy makers, successful professionals/entrepreneurs and change agents. One prevalent feature of underprivileged communities like Ijegun is the high rate of school dropouts owing to teenage pregnancy. Due to the intense poverty and the pressure for survival at all cost, many girls, as 15 year old Abibat Odukoya described it, “believe that they should use what they have to get what they need”, hence they take to random sex, prostitution and trafficking as means of survival. While some succeed in aborting pregnancies time and again through the help of quack doctors and sometimes, die in the process, others live with the consequences of their action as they are thrust into a situation of emergency motherhood and adulthood. One of such is Ronke Solomon (not real names), a brilliant and upward looking girl who gambled with sex for two years with her hapless lover until pregnancy surfaced and her educational career was terminated at the age of 17, while in secondary school. The first of five children from a dysfunctional family, Ronke was forced to park to her lover’s house, although the man no means to cater for her as he was jobless and sickly. 

Unfortunately too, delivery was tough due to malnutrition and ill health. It took Caesarean section before she was delivered of her baby boy, now four year old. Since she could not go back to her parents, she had to remain with her “husband” and three years later, got pregnant again. Today, Ronke has two children (aged 4 and 1) but is still jobless. Once in a while, the man gets some casual jobs to put food on the table but to a very great extent, the family of four is totally impoverished and depressed. Of course, we cannot categorize girls in situations like these as victims of sexual abuse. Theirs is a consentual agreement to engage in random but risky sexual behaviours, although many of them do not know the full import of their actions before getting into it. Unlike what obtains in developed countries, teenage pregnancy in this part of the world comes with complex and negative consequences, both to those involved and the society at large. These include increased maternal and infant mortality deaths, huge health risks such as HIV/AIDS, deprivation of childhood, termination of education, low income earning power, isolation and depression, joblessness, low self esteem and lack of adequate care for the children born.Of course, the girls had questions to ask, bothering on issues of dating, sexual abuse by neighbours and uncles to outright rape. Aside warning them against the danger of yielding to pressure for sex from lovers at this state of their lives, I saw the need to also warn them to be smart and never play vulnerable to sexual abuse from anyone, whether family, friend or foe. In summarizing the exciting interactive session, which had over 30 girls in attendance, had a three-step action plan to minimize the surge of teenage pregnancy, namely• Shine your eyes (be smart so you are not a victim)• Zip up (abstain from sex and focus on your education so you can be empowered to conquer poverty)• Speak out (do not cover up any attempt by anyone to violate or abuse you sexually, no matter how close or revered such a person may be.)
The three-step action plan became a sing-song as the girls departed, even as we resolved to draw up a time table for computer literacy classes for all of them in August when they commence their summer vacation. This, no doubt is a tall order, considering that all of them are currently digital illiterates and most of the desktop computers we have at the moment are no longer useable. However, the excitement and commitment displayed by these girls inspire hope that the August agenda will be possible so they can be gainfully engaged and empowered. And when a girl is empowered, the nation, and indeed, Ijegun community will be enlightened, empowered and liberated.

Culled from www.worldpulse.com

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