Statistics from the Ghana Health Service (GHS) indicates that about 13 teenage pregnancy cases were recorded every day in Ghana especially in 2020 during the peak period of COVID-19.
This data reveals that in 2020, on a daily basis, out of nearly 301 pregnancies recorded in Ghana, 13 were teenage ones.
According to the GHS, Ghana recorded a total of 109,888 teen pregnancies with the lowest girls put in the family way being 10-year-olds.
The World Bank collection of development indicators reported that in 2019, about 2,380,000 teenage mothers between the ages of 15 to 19 were found in Ghana.
Per the data, girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years account for 2,865 pregnancies recorded in 2020 while another 107,023 girls between the ages of 15-19 were impregnated within the same period.
Statistics from Reproductive-Health-journal, Biomedcentral.com, indicates that in 2019 about 143 teenagers got pregnant and gave birth in Northern Ghana with an increase to 3,780 in 2020.
Most of the pregnancies came because of the lockdown instituted by the government as a preventive measure to stop the infection and spread of COVID-19.
The causes of teenage pregnancies included; the loss of livelihood by parents, poverty, parental neglect, sexual exploitation and abuse, defilement or rape, curiosity and adventurous adolescent behaviours, as well as the lack of adolescent and reproductive health education in most communities contributed to this horrible rise in the phenomenon.
This compromised their education and other development opportunities and made them vulnerable to poverty, violence, crime and social exclusion.
Hajia Alima Sagito Saeed, the Executive Director of Savannah Women Integrated Development Agency (SWIDA), said COVID-19 increased the school dropout situation particularly among the girls in communities across the country.
She said mostly, girls in urban areas were forced to work by trading in the streets or engaged in head porting (Kayaye) just to increase their household income.
In an interview during “Mobilizing Media to Fighting COVID-19” project being implemented by the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) in collaboration with the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA), a 14-year-old Student (name withheld) from Nanton Kurugu Junior High School (JHS) in the Northern Region told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) that she became pregnant as result of closure of schools during the COVID-19 period.
She said after delivering, her parents forced her into marriage to the detriment of her education and her 38-year-old husband has not been supportive economically so the circumstances compelled her to sell food stuff in Nanton Market to care for her child.
Another 12-year-old primary school girl (name withheld) from Bimbila Primary in the Northern Region also shared her experience, saying she became pregnant during the lockdown period.
She said her parents were facing financial challenges to take care of her and her other five siblings.
“I had no option than to be having sex with a 35-year-old man without protection just to make some money to feed myself.
“l became pregnant last year April and gave birth in January this year before schools re-opened which affected my ability to go back to school”, she added.
Again, a 16-year-old final year student of Diare JHS in the Region said she was forced to marry a 40-year-old man due to poverty, during the lockdown, saying she now has a child with the man.
She said early marriage affected her education and her dream to become a Nurse but she still desires to go to school and appealed for support to enable her go back to school to realize her dream.
Government introduced e-learning to help students to get engaged in learning while at home but the lack of electricity, television, radio, and internet in the homes of some teenage girls compromised the quality of the programme and thus exposed learning inequalities in the country’s educational system.
Working to develop better laws
A number of international commitments on improving gender equality and ending poverty made educational attainment key concern.
These are the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Violence against Women (CEDAW) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) particularly Goal Four and Five.
Key among issues being advocated, include the right to education for all, reduction in levels of women’s illiteracy, bridging the gender gap in education, empowerment of women to look after their children and contribute to national development.
Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Mr Emmanuel Holortu, the Northern Regional Coordinator of the Domestic Violence and Victim’s Support Unit (DOVVSU) in an interview with GNA, indicated that child marriage worsened due to economic challenges confronting parents during the COVID-19.
He stated that although the legal age of marriage is 18 years, children older than 16 could consent to sex in Ghana.
He expressed concerns about gaps in the country’s laws on consent to sex by 16 year old girls and said “what has not been addressed, however, is if a child is sexually exploited and becomes pregnant at 16 or 17, what happens to the perpetrator?”
DSP Holortu noted there was no provision for any form of sanction, and the teenage girl must bear the brunt alone, adding “this injustice is supported by the Criminal Offences Act of 1960, which has entrenched violators’ impunity”.
He noted that child rights advocates have engaged government and development actors for a review of the child protection legislation such as the Criminal Offences Act, the Children’s Act and Juvenile Justice Act to ensure uniformity and synchronization of the legal age of marriage to the legal age of consent with a Romeo and Juliet clause.
Facilitating pregnant girls’ re-entry into school after delivery becomes one measure for reducing gender disparities in educational attainment.
Due to that, the Ministry of Education in Ghana has developed guidelines that support teenagers with unplanned pregnancies to continue schooling or opt to return after delivery.
This guideline is in conformity with the government policy of compulsory universal basic education for every child in Ghana.
Madam Lamnatu Adam, the Executive Director of Songtaba Organization, has urged government and other stakeholders to speed up measures to protect children from abuse of violence and teenage pregnancy.
Parents should take the responsibility to control and enlighten their teenage girls on sex education.
Government and other stakeholders, including human rights advocates should push more to speed up amendments to laws that put girls in disadvantage.
By Comfort Sena Fetrie