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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Teenage Pregnancy Negatively Changing The Lives Of Young Girls, Contributing To School Drop Out, What Is The Government Doing To Revamp Sex Education?

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By: Sarah John
     For Eunice and Racheal “It only happened that one time”
Eunice Ikechuckwu, 20, is from a low-income home, her father is a senior craftsman and her mother is a trader in one of the markets in Kano state, Eunice does most of the chores at home before she leaves for school daily, and when she close, she joins her mother in the market.  The first time she had sex, Eunice didn’t know she could get pregnant after having unprotected sex only once.
When Eunice Ikechuckwu was 17, and still living with her parent in their Sabon Gari home in Kano State, Nigeria, she didn’t know one could get pregnant after having unprotected sex only once. A friend told her that it had to happen multiple times. So, after experimenting during her school inter-house sport shortly before Covid-19 which came with a lockdown, she had unprotected sex with her 21-year-old boyfriend and school senior. A month and a half later, she found out she was pregnant.
Eunice, now 20, doesn’t remember ever receiving any sex education in school. The little she knew was from conversations with friends.
The pregnancy shattered Eunice’s dream and forced her to drop out of school for fear of stigmatization. Eunice was just in SS 1 when she was caught up in the dilemma of having to manage pregnancy and live like a married woman from her teenage age with her sister.
“I felt like my world had crashed then, I was left with no option but to quit schooling, because my classmate will mock and gossip about me. The worse was when my parent forced me out of the house, and my elder sister who was staying alone had to adopt me during the pregnancy, it was there I stayed until I gave birth.
“Amos who was responsible for the pregnancy was just my senior, and he never showed up, when his parent was informed, they denied it, and ever since then, it has been my sister, friends, and other kind-hearted people who always come through for me, coupled with my small hustle,” Eunice said.
On Thursday, November 3, 2022, the Federal Government directed the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) to delete sex education from the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC).
The government believes that the unanimity move can undermine efforts to stem the surging tide of deaths arising from teenage pregnancy-related causes, as well as negate the very essence of comprehensive sexuality education, which is aimed at protecting children and helping to build a safer and inclusive society.
On the contrary, the increasing number of teenage pregnancies among school children is on the rise across Nigeria.
Rebbeca Samuel, 18, was in SS 2 when she had her first sex experience with her boyfriend who is a neighbor on their street in Nomasland, Kano.
“It was my first time and just a few days after my menstrual circle, he came to visit me in the house and it was just me and him in the sitting room, that was where it happened, it happened so fast that I was surprised that it resulted in Pregnancy.
“I couldn’t bear the shame after my aunty found out and told my parent, so I ran out of the house, and that was all about schooling when my parent brought me back home, they took care of me until I delivered, and just a week after I delivered, my dad passed on, I became a huge burden to my mother and siblings, so there was no way I will want to even go back to school,” Samuel said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about seven Nigerian women die every hour from pregnancy-related causes, just as the WHO, alongside the United Nations, and the World Bank maintains that Nigeria accounts for 19 per cent of maternal deaths worldwide. It is in light of these grim scenarios that every well-meaning Nigerian believes that information relating to sexual decisions and options should never be exclusive or kept away from young persons.
As a matter of fact, contrary to what many Nigerian parents believe, a reasonable number of adolescents, especially females, have their maiden sexual encounter as early as 17.2 years, while their male counterparts average do so at about 21.7 years.
This was also confirmed by the National Health Demographic Survey (NDHS). The 2003-2018 edition of the survey, which is the latest in the series indicated that women aged 25-49 had a median age of 17.2 years for their first sexual encounter, compared to 21.7 years for men aged 30-59. Also, 19 per cent of women begin sexual activities before the age of 15, and 57 per cent begin before the age of 18.
But Nigeria’s secondary curriculum does have a Comprehensive Sexuality Education program, meant to equip young people like Eunice with knowledge about sex and help reduce teenage pregnancies, which have been soaring in the country, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. Government data shows that in January and February 2021, nearly 5,000 girls age 17 and under got pregnant.
The trend has called the current sex education offered in schools into question. Some say it falls short and are asking the government to redesign it, while others want the curriculum scrapped altogether, saying that it only encourages young people to engage in early sex.
Sex education is one heated conversation with conflicting opinions.
Findings have revealed that parents have a different view on sexual education. Some believe that sex education should not be taught in school, while others believe that only certain aspects of sex education should be taught. Some think it should be part of the school curriculum. If it should be taught, when is the appropriate age?
However, what should be the ideal in a world where there are different opinions about sex and sexuality. Many are asking, should the topic of sex be taught in Nigerian schools?
According to debate.org, 93% of people believe that sex education should be taught in schools. However, the audience of this poll is not primarily Nigerians.
With such early commencement of sexual activities, Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE), experts insist, is a sine qua none for improving adolescents’ knowledge and attitude toward positive sexual and reproductive health and behaviours.
However, Sex Education in the Nigeria curriculum is not a stand-alone subject. In secondary school, it is a topic under the umbrella of the Guidance and Counselling syllabus along with numerous other topics such as human growth and development and norms and values. In primary school, it is under the Family, Religion and Moral Education syllabus.
Stanly, a primary school teacher who requested to use only his first name for fear of retribution, blames the curriculum design for the steady increase in the number of teenage pregnancies. The design, he says, is evidence of the government’s lack of seriousness in sex education.
“Maybe if treated as a subject on its own, then it will be given enough time and become impactive on behavior change of youths toward sexual activities,” he says.
The government isn’t entirely to blame, Stanly says. He admits that some schools have neglected sex education. Some do not teach it or examine it. Other schools, he adds, leave the responsibility of sex education to nonprofits.
“There are organizations that come and teach learners in schools, but in the absence of funding, no sex education happens,” he says.
Felicia, a secondary school teacher who also prefers to go by her first name for fear of retribution, agrees with Stanly. “The challenge is it [sex education] is not examinable. Therefore, it doesn’t contribute to the learners’ passes,” he says. A guidance and counseling teacher, Tawanda sees a pressing need for schools to take sex education seriously and assess it for it to be effective.
Schools can work only with the available resources, and this is part of the problem. Stanly says there is not enough government funding to implement the sex education curriculum. But Mathew Philip, the director of communications and advocacy at the Ministry of Education, says the government will need to review its decision because of the increasing cases of teenage pregnancy in Nigeria
Not everyone thinks a redesign is necessary. Some say introducing sex education has only stirred the hornet’s nest. Exposing young people to this subject has encouraged more to engage in early sex and led to more unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, says Hadiza Mohammed, a parent.
In “our generation, unwanted pregnancies were rare because we were not taught about [this] adult stuff. Sex issues should be learned by one once they are married, not before,” says Mohammad.
Esther James says this is one of the many myths surrounding sex education that she has encountered in her work. The founding director of Protect Our Teenage Girls Initiatives (PTGI), a nonprofit that empowers girls, says this information only equips young people to make informed decisions on their sexuality.
It’s for this reason that her organization has been offering peer counseling to young women. “They meet up and discuss issues that they specifically face, for them to be able to draw strength and lessons from each other,” she says.
In fact, young people already have access to some of this information, whether schools teach sex education or not, says Hajiya Maryam, a parent. “Either on the internet or on social media,” she says. “I feel it’s better that they get formal sex education than us pretending that they are innocent.”
Maryam has already broached the subject with her 6-year-old daughter, but only what she considers appropriate. “I cannot talk to her about sex now, but I have already created that relationship where I can actually talk to her when the time is right. As parents we should play our part and not leave everything to teachers,” she says.
Teachers aren’t adequately trained to offer this kind of education, she adds. “Just like a sports teacher where a teacher can have a degree in sport, the same should be done for sex education.”
Vivian Anosike agrees. The Director of Secondary Education Federal Ministry of Education acknowledges shortcomings in the sex education offered in schools and a lack of training for teachers.
“It is clear that there is a need to review the module to be more informative and life-changing to learners in schools,” he says.
A committee is working with the Ministry of Education to ensure that young people have access to age-appropriate information on sexuality in schools, Anosike adds. For example, we are explaining the need for a promulgated Education Act, where officials will be appointed to be incharge of sexual and reproductive health personnel in schools.
“We think it is progressive, as this will open up opportunities for the learners in school to be taught or be given information on sexual and reproductive rights,” Anosike says.
Many other policies aimed at curbing teenage pregnancies are also taking shape as the government implements the Education Act, he adds.
Anosike added that all stakeholders need to work together to curb teenage pregnancies. “The lessons picked from the COVID-19 pandemic are crucial in the policymaking process.”
Charity, who requested to use her first name for fear of stigma, got pregnant when she was 15. Although she knew a little bit about the dangers of unprotected sex from older women around her, she never received adequate sex education in school. Charity, whose child is almost 2 years old, says her school would offer something related to sex education toward the end of each term, but there wasn’t much depth to it.
“We were separated — boys from girls — and told to behave well during school holidays, but that is the only time we were taught about sex,” she says. “It was more of a cautionary tale for the holidays.”

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