She was making a fascinator hat, her eyes were fixed on the net she was sewing with a needle. Her face was without expressions as she recounted what she went through when she got pregnant at the age of 17.
“The shame and the embarrassment from my people were too much. And I felt like I couldn’t make it or train my child like I would have loved to but a friend introduced me to this school,” she starting crying and her body shook.
With her head bent, she kept on piercing the net with the needle, and every stitch bore evidence of her determination to pull through.
18-year-old Okechi Ada is one of the teenage mothers being supported by Dreams from the Slum initiative, a non-governmental organisation committed to helping people living in the slum to realise their dreams. She and other girls are being empowered with vocational skills with which they can eke out a living.
Recounting the event that led her into teenage motherhood, Ada said she got pregnant just after she finished her secondary education.
“Before then, my dad, who was a driver and into the clearing and forwarding business, was arrested by the police for a crime he did not commit,” she said.
“So, while he was in the cell, I would go and give him food but the policemen I met there usually insulted me. It was during that time I met an army officer. I told him about me and everything that happened. He helped me such that the policemen didn’t abuse me anymore, and then we started a relationship.”
Ada said after she realised that she was pregnant and informed him about it, he wanted her to abort the pregnancy.
But she refused. Ada, who lost her mother when she was 10 years old, said she couldn’t kill her baby, so she has had to bear the brunt of raising the child alone without help from her baby’s father.
According to the Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey 2013, 23 percent of women aged 15 to 19 have begun childbearing; 17 percent have a child, and five percent are pregnant with their first child.
It stated that a larger proportion of teenagers in rural areas have begun childbearing.
The report said 36 percent of teenagers in the North West, eight percent in the South East and eight percent in the South West have started childbearing.
It also noted that teenagers with no education represented about half of those who had begun childbearing while only two percent of teenagers with more than a secondary education had begun childbearing.
Forty-three percent of teenagers in the lowest wealth population have started childbearing compared to 21 percent in the middle wealth population.
Left in the lurch, dreams in limbo
Over the years, the dreams of many girls who become teenage mothers have been killed as they are saddled with the responsibility of taking care of their children alone.
“Before I got pregnant, my dream was to become a journalist,” Ada said, beaming with smiles as she raised her head, for the first time.
Laughing heartily, she said she also loved to be a fashion designer.
“I like finding out about things; I like creativity. I’m writing my GCE exams. I still want to go back to school and I must become a journalist,” she said.
19-year old Khadijat Adeagbo, another beneficiary of the Dreams from the Slum initiative, was 17 and in senior secondary school when she got pregnant.
Resigning herself to fate, she described her situation as “whatever God has written, one will surely go through it.”
Two months after she took in, she was still going to school until the fifth month when her stomach started bulging.
Adeagbo said she didn’t know she was pregnant until she fell sick and her brother called a nurse to attend to her.
“When he knew I was pregnant, he sent me out of the house and for two months, I didn’t sleep in his house. I had to go to the guy that got me pregnant. I was so frustrated that I wanted to jump into a canal.”
She said her boyfriend was so caring to her while they were dating but suddenly changed when he learnt of the pregnancy.
“If you want to see unserious human beings, he’s the number one of them. It’s been three months since I spoke with him last.” she said
Her hope of becoming a popular actress and a fashion designer is only being kept alive by the NGO.
Another teenager, Hannah Omorinbola, decided to learn fashion designing after her secondary education.
The first of five girls, she became pregnant while she was writing exams in preparation for admission into a tertiary institution.
When the woman from whom she was learning fashion designing found out, she was furious and sent her packing, warning her never to return to her shop.
Sitting idly at home, and her dream of becoming a broadcaster forgotten, Omorinbola is searching for a job to raise money for her two-year-old daughter, who is set to start school soon.
Unlike Adeagbo and Ada, she is finding it difficult to take hold of opportunities because she has no one to support her.
Abandoned by parents and judged by the society, many teenage mothers are left to raise children with little or no support, making the trend of teenage pregnancy to grow since many of the children are not properly brought up and may also become teenage mothers or fathers.
18-year-old Sekinat Adeyombo was writing NECO (National Examinations Council) exams and didn’t know she was pregnant until she started feeling unwell.
Her mum took her to a clinic and it was confirmed that she was three months pregnant.
“My mum said so many things. She abused me. She didn’t tell my dad because she wanted him to find out himself. Meanwhile, my dad had started pushing my admission into Moshood Abiola Polytechnic but when he heard, he was so mad at me and cursed me so much that I didn’t sleep in the house for two days. I had to stay with my grandma,” she said.
Adeyombo’s dream of becoming a journalist has been put on hold and now hangs in the balance. With no support from the man who impregnated her, she is now learning fashion designing, thanks to the Dreams from the Slum initiative.
Why teenage pregnancy is on the rise
According to Isaac Success Omoyele, founder of Dreams from the Slum initiative, an NGO based in Ajegunle, Lagos, poverty is a major factor for the rapid growth of teenage pregnancy in Nigeria.
Ajegunle is a densely populated Lagos suburb where most residents live below the poverty line.
Oxfam International, in a report, entitled ‘Inequality in Nigeria’ and released this year, described Nigeria as one of the few countries where the number of people living in poverty increased, from 69 million in 2004 to 112 million in 2010 – a rise of 69 percent.
It said the country has more than ten million children out of school.
Omoyele said since the inception of the foundation in 2013, 18 teenage mothers had been catered for through education, empowerment and mentoring.
“Most of them did not actually plan for this kind of life. I know a girl who got pregnant because she needed money for pad. Some of them were deceived. Often times, it is due to challenges. So, what we do here is more than skill acquisition or sending them back to school, we do more of personal development and help them have a healthy self-esteem,” he said.
Omoyele, who is passionate about catering for the teenage mothers, explained that getting support for them could be quite challenging because they have been written off by the society.
Engr. Olumide Olorunfemi, the co-founder of Sephamid Bridge Foundation, a Christian non-governmental organisation preaching healthy lifestyle to adolescents through health care awareness, resource mobilisation and support, said sexual abuse like rape, absent parents, ignorance, and peer pressure have contributed to the increase in early pregnancy in teenagers.
Olorunfemi, who is currently working in rural communities in Ekiti State, explained that the number of teenage mothers is high and rising daily, especially in rural areas.
He noted that the society had not done much to tackle this menace, and how to cater for the teeming out-of-school adolescent mothers.
Omolara Aluko, a family planning and contraception educator, said the lack of sex education among many teenagers was a reason for the rise of teenage pregnancy.
According to her, despite the pressure from peers and the media, many teenagers are not given the requisite sex education by their parents, and they end up experimenting with sex when they are not within their parent/guardian’s reach.
Tackling teenage pregnancy
The rising spate of teenage pregnancy, especially in the rural areas and outskirts of major cities across the country, has assumed a worrying dimension and Omoyele explained that the primary way to tackle teenage motherhood is to encourage teenagers to embrace abstinence, telling them why they should avoid sex before marriage.
He believes abstinence is possible, citing the example of a girl who decided to stay chaste despite having to drop out of school because there was no money.
According to Omoyele, the need to sensitize girls living in slums should not be underestimated because many of them suffer low self-esteem and the mindset of the people in slums is that an average teenager should get pregnant.
For Aluko, teenage pregnancy can also be curbed by raising awareness on the need for contraception.
She explained that youths need to know the different methods available to use before or after intercourse so that they don’t end up sacrificing their future on the altar of pleasure.
According to her, the society needs to stop being judgmental as it discourages a teenager from talking to an elder about his or her sexual life.
Olorunfemi stated that informing and guiding teenagers to make good decisions about their sexuality would help to stem the tide of teenage pregnancy.
He stressed the need for state governments to plan and integrate comprehensive sexuality education into secondary school’s curriculum.
He said, “The fact is that most teenagers get their information about sexuality and the use of contraceptives from their peers, whose views are often inaccurate and based on rumors.
“Also, there is need for re-orientation within the community space that will enhance the effective communication among parents, teacher and adolescents to adequately curb this menace.”
Olorunfemi also explained that parents should take care of their children and answer questions they are interested in, instead of leaving them unattended to.
He is of the view that customs that encourage child marriage in some parts of the country should be abolished.
Support for teenage mothers
Like the Dreams from the Slum initiative in Lagos, Olorunfemi’s Sephamid Bridge Foundation is empowering teenage mothers in Ekiti.
He said the foundation had counselled 15 teenage mothers so far with seven of them on scholarships.
“Three of them are in secondary school; two will write their WAEC (West African Examinations Council) examination this session and four of them are in vocational outfit. We are glad that all these girls are doing well at their studies and training. We are working to get two teenage mothers into higher institution this year,” Olorunfemi said.
Omoyele explained that even when some teenage mothers got help and had been delivered of their babies, they still return to their former life while some already see themselves as a wife.
“When they come, we give them everything they need including pampers for their babies and pocket money so that they don’t go back to the guy (who got them pregnant) but some still go back and get pregnant again,” the founder of Dreams from Slum initiative said.
According to him, the government needs to organise seminars and empowerment programmes for teenagers living in slums because most of them do not have the opportunities that other young people living in the better parts of the country.
He said if the level of poverty in Ajegunle could be reduced, girls could make do with the skills they have and won’t have to depend on men for survival.
Aluko explained that the first help that should be available to a teenage mother should come from her parents.
“That at a girl is pregnant shouldn’t be the end of her world, instead, parents should rise to their responsibilities by taking the child off the girl after birth, and send her back to school,” she added.