By most accounts, teenage pregnancy is steadily on the increase in the country and concerned citizens describe the phenomenon as a raging torrent fast consuming many lives, either through unsafe abortions or via other risks associated with teenage pregnancy.
No doubt, the social challenge is afflicting homes of the high and low; just as a controversy rages over who takes the blame – the parents or the children!
Dr Benedicta Korubo of St. Patrick’s Hospital in Port Harcourt confirmed the increasing menace of teenage pregnancy in the country and blames it squarely on the parents.
“The chances of mother and child dying in such conditions are high, particularly in the rural areas, because of obstructed and prolonged labour,’’ she said.
Observers, however, note that it is commonplace to find many pregnant teenagers in several neighbourhoods nowadays, adding that teenage pregnancy has provoked crises in some homes, as fathers and mothers usually trade blames over the plight of the hapless children.
They stress that efforts to tackle the growing menace of teenage pregnancy, among others, ought to occupy the centre stage every year when the Children’s Day is celebrated on May 27.
It is, perhaps, the acknowledgment of such a point of view that compelled the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) to make a radical departure from its annual ritual of celebrating the Children’s Day.
This year, FIDA organised a series of debate on the rising menace of teenage pregnancy among secondary school students and the grand finale of the debate was held in Port Harcourt on May 27.
The thrust of the debate was to sensitise young girls, in particular, to the dangers inherent in promiscuity, which include health risks and abrupt truncation of their educational careers, both having serious socio-economic consequences.
Justice E. Thompson, a High Court judge in Rivers State; Mrs Ime Aguma, a former commissioner in the state, and Mrs Joy Bob-Manuel, the Director-General of Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, are some of the dignitaries who attended the occasion.
At the event, the speakers took time, in turn, to educate the young girls on the consequences of teenage pregnancy, while their male counterparts were also sensitised to the consequences of early fatherhood.
The subject of the debate — “Teenage pregnancy: Who takes the blame” — was considered to be very apt by many observers.
Korubo, the lead speaker, argued that “parents should be held responsible for the increasing rate of teenage pregnancy”.
She claimed that the reckless search for money had compelled many parents to abandon their responsibilities to their children, leaving the children at the mercy of society’s “wolves”, who polluted them with perverted values that undermined their self-worth and education.
“Unfortunately, child upbringing cannot be contracted out to a consultant or contractor as many parents are inclined to doing. Good parenting invariably saves parents a lot of problems, including death on the long run,” she said.
Korubo explained that factors such as good nutrition and rapid growth in the children of the present age had induced some emerging challenges such as early menstruation in girls.
She also attributed teenage pregnancies to abject poverty in some homes, where female children, in their desperate yearning to satisfy certain needs, became vulnerable to the social malady.
“Girls from poor homes are more prone to sleeping around for monetary gains and that raises the probability of their getting pregnant in the process,” she said, adding that greed was also a factor, as people could still maintain their dignity in the midst of poverty.
But Mr Emmanuel Ajeh, a Port Harcourt-based book seller, disagreed with Korubo’s position, arguing that nobody, in particular, could be solely blamed for the rapidly increasing teenage pregnancies in Nigeria.
He, however, admitted that it was really difficult for parents, who left home early and came back very late, to properly monitor the upbringing of their children, particularly the girls.
Ajeh conceded that the “home-based” nature of his business had somewhat enabled him to know and understand the “going out and coming in” of his children.
He, nonetheless, noted that some children’s upbringing still posed serious problems despite close monitoring by their parents.
“Even if you lock some girls up in boxes, they will still go out,” Ajeh said, while agreeing with Korubo that efforts should be made to provide proper sex education for the girl-child in particular.
Mrs Lydia Nwoko, a business woman and a mother of four, argued that parents should not be solely blamed for the social problem.
“Child upbringing remains a collective responsibility of parents, schools’ administrators, girls themselves and the success of the whole exercise largely depends on God’s mercy,’’ she said.
However, Nwoko noted that some parents were very careless about the moral training of their children, adding that many parents, especially those in the rural areas, never bothered about the movements of their children and the kind of friends they kept.
She said that although some fathers were always prepared to train, correct and discipline their children, the mothers often resisted their moves, calling such fathers “wicked’’ men.
A 16-year-old secondary school student, who simply gave her name as Christiana, stressed that some parents should be held accountable for the rising menace of teenage pregnancies.
She said that some parents refused to take a good care of their female children, thus making them vulnerable to the plots of some devious men.
Christiana, however, admitted that some girls were very wayward and could hardly control their libido, adding that no amount of care and monitoring can ever bridle such girls.
On her part, Justice Thompson advised students against engaging in pre-marital sex, to avoid early pregnancy and abortion which, she added, amounted to a crime, as it was outlawed.
She, however, insisted that teenage girls had some rights as bona-fide Nigerian citizens, adding that such rights included their right to life, food and nutrition, dignity, clothing, movement, property and education, among others.
Thompson, however, noted that since Nigeria was not in the “Western world”, the girls’ rights and privileges were not without cognate responsibilities and duties to their parents and the country.
Mrs. Joy Bob-Manuel, the Director-General of Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, warned secondary school students to refrain from watching pornographic videos and reading similar literature.
Represented by Mrs Jane Bianeyio, an official of the council, Bob-Manuel also warned the students, especially the females, to shun early sex, so as to prevent teenage pregnancy.
She expatiated that the burdens and risks associated with teenage pregnancy were too excruciating to bear.
Bob-Manuel stressed that adolescents should face their studies squarely and refrain from becoming “smart boys and smart girls”, who ended up as school dropouts.
Mrs Ime Aguma, who chaired the debate, commended the students of Rivers State for their academic prowess which was exemplified by their good language and official records.
She stressed that with the passage and domestication of the Child Rights Act, the sky was the limit for any serious student
Mrs. Eucharia Pepple, the chairperson FIDA in the state, said that the debate was organised to sensitise the students to the dangers of teenage pregnancy, while encouraging the promotion of the reading culture among the students and Nigerians in general.
Pepple urged the students to take their studies seriously, so as to pass their examinations and expand their academic horizon.
Observers commend FIDA for its trail-blazing efforts in promoting community participation in the fight against violence against women and children in the society.
Nzemeke writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)