With available data showing that up to 25 per cent of Nigerian adolescents are sexually active with the age of sexual debut ranging from 10 to 15 years, concerns have been raised about near-zero reproductive health information that is available to them. Of particular interest has been the low level of information about unsafe sex to reduce Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and family planning options to prevent unintended pregnancies.
Considering the traditional and religious beliefs which tend to frown at unmarried youths involving in sexual activities, the idea of providing teenagers with the information may be rejected. Against this background, it is common to find parents and guardians that choose to oppose this matter.
Hence, for the people in this group, discussing measures to prevent unintended pregnancies and awareness about unsafe sex among teenagers is a taboo. “It is against the African culture,” they say while reacting to this, but the fact that some teenagers are engaging in sexual intercourse remains incontrovertible and this has health implications.
According to a physician with specialty in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Advocacy Director with Pathfinder, Dr. Salami Habeeb, equipping teenagers with highlighted information will avert Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) as well as prevent pregnancies for those that have sex, but not ready for getting pregnant. It therefore makes sense for parents and guardians to do the needful: provide teenage girls and boys with information on safe sex and family planning services.
Family planning allows couples and individuals including minors to anticipate and attain their desired number of children as well as the spacing and timing of their births. It is achieved through use of contraceptives. These are methods or devices used to prevent pregnancy. Equipping young persons with the needed information would enable them make informed choices and decisions concerning their reproductive health.
A study, titled: ‘Teenage Pregnancy and Prevalence of Abortion among In-school Adolescents in North Central, Nigeria,’ by Sunday Adedeji Aderibigbe and others, revealed that teenage pregnancy is a major public health and social problem the world over and its incidence is on the increase. It constitutes a health hazard both to the mothers and the foetus and the mother is at increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension, anaemia, obstructed labour, among other health complications.
Saidat Okaga, a reproductive health expert and director of Family Planning at the Lagos State Ministry of Health, asserted that family planning saves lives, saying it could prevent at least 34 per cent maternal death, while urging people in the reproductive age bracket (15 to 45) to embrace it. She also advocated scale up of family planning services by governments at all levels as one of the maternal survival strategies.
With regards to teenagers getting pregnant, Okaga said pregnancies that were too early carry extra hazards not only for the health of the woman but also for the child. Hence, preventing minors from getting pregnant is key to their wellbeing.
Aside the role of parents and guardians in giving their young ones family planning information, Habeeb has similarly urged relevant government agencies to review existing regulations which bar adolescents from accessing contraceptives except with parental consent.
According to the obstetrics and gynaecologist, removing this barrier has become necessary in view of the high number of adolescents, majorly singles, who end up with unintended pregnancies, many of which result in unsafe abortions and sometimes death. It has also been shown that about 70 per cent of women who die in pregnancy are young women below the age of 18.
Speaking to parents and guardians, Habeeb said, “Don’t wait for the review of the regulation before playing parental roles that can stem high rates of unintended pregnancies among adolescent girls.”
To adolescents, particularly singles, he urged them to abstain from sex and suggested that those who could not abstain must embrace contraceptives as a method of preventing unintended pregnancies.