Factors behind teenage pregnancy and recommendations for capacity building
Essay from Jeremiah Lucas Opira Memorial Contest 2023
Author: Ayesigamukama Godfrey
Winner, Category 3
Teenage pregnancy refers to female adolescents becoming pregnant between the ages of 13-19. These young females have not yet reached adulthood. According to research, the teenage pregnancy rate of 25% in Uganda is worrying though it may seem low compared to 28% in Sub-Saharan countries and West and Central Africa. Young mothers in Uganda risk poor maternal and child health, being isolated, attempting unsafe abortions, failure to continue with school, and poverty.
My item describes my perceptions and recommendations of young mothers (teenagers), family and community members on why the high rate of teenage pregnancies in Uganda, its effects and how these can be reduced.
Below, I revealed the determinants of teenage pregnancy and suggested recommendations and areas for capacity building that were tackled at individual, social, economic and physical levels.
Causes/determinants of teenage pregnancy
Girls in the rural areas of Uganda lack life and social skills such as making positive decisions, self-esteem, patience, assertiveness (boldness) and a bargaining power which could help them better navigate life’s challenges and avoid early sex and or early pregnancies.
With their lack of education and knowledge about reproduction, these teens engage in unprotected and unsafe sexual activity. These teens do not know about the available contraceptives, nor do they explore their options. Even if the adolescents have some form of contraception, they are using them incorrectly which makes them useless during sexual activity. These teens simply engage in intercourse at very young ages, and may have multiple partners which further leads to increased chances of pregnanc.
Social environment level
Peer Pressure and Sexual Abuse:
Peer pressure is another major cause of sexual abuse, often females may be pressured or forced by an older male partner to engage in sexual activity. These young females out of fear may feel forced to engage in unprotected sex without a choice which may eventually result into unwanted teenage pregnancies.
Peer pressure may also be prevalent in a different form while in relationships, adolescents may be pressured by their partner to have unsafe and unprotected sex in order to express their “love” and “true feelings” for their partner. The partner may manipulate the other to have unprotected sex which leads to unintended pregnancy.
It is perceived that adolescent girls in the rural areas of Uganda are mostly impregnated by fellow schoolmates or youths who dropped out of school and are working, for example, as motorbike (boda boda) riders, sugarcane harvesters, food and retail workers.
Lack of education:
Failure by teachers and medical personnel to teach learners about how to avoid pregnancy, such as abstinence and use of the safe days of their menstrual cycle, and perceived failure of parents to adequately educate or supervise their children leads to them conceiving thus teenage pregnancies.
Drugs and alcohol:
During adolescence, teenagers may drink and experiment with drugs frequently with their friends at social gatherings and parties. Teens, however, do not realize the impacts alcohol and drugs have on the functioning of their brain, especially the effects of binge drinking which is consuming large amounts of alcohol during one sitting. Drinking excessively as well as experimenting drugs may lead to unwanted and unintentional pregnancy. These substances greatly affect a teen’s ability to logically think and carry out general thinking processes, thus increasing the chances they will engage in unprotected and unsafe sexual activity.
Pressure to contribute to family welfare whereby girls are pushed into sexually involving themselves with men who could give them money, for example, to buy some items like sugar for the family.
Lack of community responsibility:
Currently, there is no one to question the teen’s behavior. Moreover, lack of positive role models is another social determinant as some parents and peers are victims of early pregnancies, hence, are perceived not to be able to stand firmly against teenage pregnancies. In addition, sexual abuse from fathers, male relatives and teachers; child rights that are misunderstood by children to mean ‘freedom’ to act as one wanted.
Girls fear using contraceptives due to perceived negative side effects; and fear of reprisal from their parents and other community members who feel contraceptives are not acceptable based on their religious beliefs.
Media, such as pornography and other sexual content in movies, videos, song lyrics or on social media sites influence young people into trying out the sexual scenes or considering sex as an adventure or something their peers are doing which may result into unprotected sex.
Cultural beliefs favoring early motherhood and a large number of children, commonly referred to as ‘children of the President of Uganda’, also contributes to the situation.
Low Socio-economic Status:
Teens who become pregnant often come from families of low socio-economic status. Growing up, these children often come from families who are suffering from poverty and do not have all the necessary resources to raise their child. These children grow up to have low educational goals and successes because of the lack of involvement from their own parents. These young kids then predisposed to a negative environment end up with less ambition to succeed in school and in life and begin making friendships with other teens who are going through similar situations as them. It is these groups of teens who begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol and do not do very well in school.
Some parents in the rural areas of Uganda lack money to provide for basic needs and schools, parents may encourage girls to have men provide these needs or end up sending their daughters to work late in the day, placing them at risk of being impregnated along the way back home.
Furthermore, economic pressures may also push some girls into prostitution and thereby risk early pregnancies.
Long distances to and from schools tempt girls to accept free rides from boda men (commercial bike drivers) and potentially place them at risk.
Effects of teenage pregnancy
Teenage pregnancy has for years affected girls in different ways both health wise and socially as explained below.
Teens are at a higher risk for pregnancy-related high blood pressure (preeclampsia) and its complications than average age mothers. Risks for the baby include premature birth and low birth weight. Preeclampsia can also harm the kidneys or even be fatal for mother or baby Pregnant teens also have a higher chance of becoming anemic. Ancmia is a reduction in the number of red blood cells (RBCs). This can make you feel weak and tired and can affect your baby’s development.
Giving birth in the United States is safer than ever, but it’s still more dangerous for a teen than for a woman 20 or older. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Trusted Source, complications during pregnancy or childbirth are the leading cause of death globally for girls ages 15 to 19.
Once pregnant, one might feel frightened and worried about telling her family and friends. Not talking to someone and not getting the help and support you need can make you feel more isolated and depressed. This can lead to problems in home and at school.
Many pregnant teens drop out of school, and some never complete their education. That means a lot of mothers who get pregnant as teenagers live in poverty.
Women who first got pregnant as teens are more likely to have more than one child. Trusted sources suggest that about one in five births to a teen mother is a repeat birth. A woman with little education and multiple children to care for will find it very difficult to earn a living.
On teen fathers
Fathering a child as a teenager can be a frightening and life-changing event. Teen fathers don’t have to worry about the health implications of pregnancy and childbirth, but they could face similar difficulties staying in school and earning a living to raise their children.
State laws vary on the legal age for people to have sexual intercourse. Arrest or legal action against teens who are sexually active can have devastating effects. A young man may be required to register as a sex offender if he has reached the legal age (age 18 in some states) and his partner has not (age 17 or under)
Recommendations for action and capacity building to reduce teenage pregnancies
- Use of seminars to sensitize children with the aim of improving their life and social survival skills. Children should be openly talked to about the effects of early pregnancies and premarital sex and not just giving in to the pleasure of sex that lasts for a short time yet the effects are long lasting. They have to learn to say no to early sex.
- Use of school alumni and trained school student leaders (also known as prefects) as motivators and peer counselors, respectively, to empower girls and boys into avoiding early sex and prioritizing education.
There should be parental and community involvement to openly advise their children and not shy away, sensitization of parents to support. Counselling of both parents and learners about effects of early pregnancy and the responsibilities that come with it, community care and responsibility to keep girls in school, and using the law to legally prosecute offenders.
Government should create credit schemes and jobs for parents to help them financially support their children, and vocational training in schools to keep girls interested in schooling and help them acquire practical skills from which they could earn money.
- Construction of more local government owned schools and allowing earlier afternoon dismissal to facilitate student’s safe return home as physical environmental factors to help prevent early pregnancies.