I intended to discuss the topic of Family Planning in the new year but since teenage pregnancy has garnered some attention in Liberia’s media as of late, now seems more apropos (appropriate, on time). So, what is Family Planning? It’s when one controls the growth of one’s family by preventing pregnancies or timing them. Essentially, it involves some degree of planning and should not be an afterthought. Keeping the aforementioned statistics in mind, unplanned” “teenage” pregnancies not only affect the immediate family but it affects every member of society as well.
What are some of the effects of teenage pregnancy?
Teenage pregnancy has the potential to impact the lives of teenage mothers in several ways. Usually, teen mothers are less likely to complete high school uninterrupted. Some may not be able to complete high school at all thereby negatively affecting their future earning potential. This increases the likelihood of poverty and oftentimes poverty begets poverty. The babies born to teenage mothers are more likely to be born prematurely and at low birth weights. They are also more likely to suffer abuse and neglect than children born to older females. Additionally, the probability of children born to teenage parents becoming teenage parents is greater compared to children born to adult parents. More importantly, teenage pregnancy brings along with it adult responsibilities. The teenager is no longer concerned with issues of adolescence only and there are missed opportunities for self-development/advancement. The potential societal impact of teenage pregnancy is an increase in financial burden of families and the country, crime rates, uneducated and unproductive citizens, underdeveloped and unskilled workforce, infant and maternal mortality rates, etc…
Having children is a blessing and has the potential to bring great happiness to individuals, couples and the extended family. However, having children is an investment and an expensive one. As a parent, one is expected to feed, clothe and shelter his/her child. Good nutrition during infancy is essential to the baby’s mental and physical development. Therefore, poor nutrition may have an adverse effect on the child’s intelligence quotient (IQ) and his/her educational aptitude. Additionally, in Liberia most often one pays for education. This is an additional expense. The list of responsibilities of parenthood goes on. Ideally, one should have the financial wherewithal to provide for all the child’s needs. Typically, teenagers are not in an advantageous position to become parents. Customarily, their responsibilities will fall to their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and the community.
What are the probable reasons for teenage pregnancy?
The probable reasons for teenage pregnancy are varied and on a case-by-case basis. It may be related to a heightened interest in sexual activity (curiosity); too much time spent in seclusion with the opposite sex; desire to act older than one’s age; emulating/acting out the culture that is depicted in today’s movies and music; sexual exploitation (people who are aware of the inappropriate nature of establishing relationships with teenagers do so despite statutory rape laws); prostitution, financial limitations (which is responsible for a lot); hopelessness, low self-esteem; low levels of education; peer pressure; teenage drinking and drug use; lack of supervision; domestic or sexual violence; child marriage; and the antiquated belief that having children as a teenager is better and represents fertility. I could name more!
What are the possible solutions to teenage pregnancy and what can be done to prevent or decrease the rate of teenage pregnancy? Here are a few possible solutions:
• Offer sex education in the schools making sure to start as early as elementary school.
• Teach Liberia’s youth about family planning, how the body works, safe sex and consequences of sex.
• Offer workshops for girls and boys, making sure to address/correct any myths, misinformation and misconceptions held by these groups.
• Develop afterschool activities (preferably free of cost) to keep teenagers engaged and active. Remember, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”
• Involve all stakeholders in this process: churches, parents, medical clinics, pertinent NGO’s, local businesses, broadcast/print media and as previously mentioned, the school system. Develop a national plan (if it has not already been done) to address this issue more comprehensively. The plan should include outreach programs (making sure to target boys and men); teenage health clinics that offer contraception, newspaper, billboard and radio ad campaigns and even a nationally syndicated radio and television show hosted by and geared toward teenagers.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the need to develop programs specifically geared toward teenage mothers and fathers. Teenage mothers would benefit from programs similar to America’s work-for-welfare which in Liberia may help to alleviate the need for young girls to seek romantic relationships for financial assistance. They would also benefit from programs that allow them to finish school and learn the importance of good nutrition and its impact on the baby’s development. They would also benefit from realistic programs that discuss healthy lifestyle choices to include safe sex/contraception to prevent repeat pregnancies. We must not forget to include programs geared toward teenage fathers encouraging increased participation in child-rearing and safe sex to prevent impregnating other teenage girls.
As a healthcare professional, I have had to deal with this issue on many occasions. I have had this happen to individuals close to me and have had to listen to their stories of what they could have done differently. I know some individuals may be opposed to some or all my proposals to address teenage pregnancy. Some individuals may believe in an abstinence-only message but statistics do not lie. There are some teenagers that are definitely having sex and we must reach that high-risk sect of Liberia’s youth with a message that addresses their reality. We must be realistic in our approach if we hope to have an impact on the current rate of teenage pregnancy in Liberia and if we wish for Liberia’s youth to dream big and strive for the best.