Per the Demographic Health Survey (DHS) 2013, teenage sex is prevalent among Nigerian youths, 54% of teenage girls (13-18) have had their first encounter before the age of 18, while 24% of girls have had their first sexual encounter before the age of 15 (13-21).
However, there is a high rate of denial amidst the Nigerian society, majorly due to culture and religion. These figures are higher in the conservative North where only 3 in 10 women reportedly had their first sexual experience before the age of 18, and about 6 in 10 women had been sexually abused before the age of 15. The effects of this are seen in the high number of teenage girls who drop out of school due to teenage pregnancy, and these, in turn, is a contributing cause of child marriage.
Northern Nigeria records the highest numbers of teenage marriage in the country. The general belief is that girls are forced into marriage by their families before they are ready, while that is in a manner of speaking truth, the reality of the situation is that several early marriages in my experience are as a result of teenage pregnancies. Religious and cultural sensitivities make it impossible for a young woman to have a child out of wedlock, therefore, in a bid to save face and keep their dignity in society, parents are forced to marry off their young girls once they are found with child.
According to the DHS, 2% of sexually active girls between the ages of 15 and 18 have access to any form of contraceptive or sex education. Since it is societally unacceptable for young girls of that age to access and use any form of family planning services, about 23% of girls in this age grade have at least one child. Consequently, the expecting mother is forced to drop out of school, get married to the father of her child who in several cases is barely a child himself.
The African patriarchal system makes all sex-related subjects seem abominable for the young girl who is being exposed to the thrills of beforehand unknown male attention, she is, therefore, either as a willing or unwilling partner not empowered to protect herself and her future. The crux of the situation is that no matter the circumstance very few have any access to contraceptives or any form of family planning.
North-western states like Kaduna, Jigawa, Katsina and Zamfara have the highest figures of teenage pregnancies according to the DHS 2013 report. This endemic situation doesn’t get any better as there is a 20% annual steady increase in the number of teenage mothers. Northern Nigeria has been tagged backward for years, one of the major reasons being early marriages and its resulting effect. However, these narratives are not in its entirety true. The region has seen the importance and benefits of “western education”, hence the marriage of a young promising child is oftentimes filled with anguish for the once hopeful parents who cannot rescue their child.
It is unarguable that an intervention is long overdue, comprehensive sex education should be accessible to girls ages 13-18, they should be given the choice to either abstain or be empowered to engage in safe sex. Several nations of the world like USA, Canada, France, and The UK have provided adolescent friendly clinics dedicated solely to offering sexual related clinical services to adolescents, with or without parental consent. The effect of which is clearly seen in the low rates of teenage pregnancy and its accompanying implications.
Being a closed culture, in a closed society, sexual issues are not open for discussion in North-western Nigeria. Even in the family unit, and if ever it is a conversation it is literally a stern warning to abstain, without any consideration being given to the natural curiosity that generally accompanies early puberty and the masses of sexually active teens.
The figures are generally lesser in urban areas, where there are less illiteracy and poverty, however, it is still uncommon for a teenage girl to access any form of sexual empowerment even in mainstream clinics. Be it a girl in her tiny little village or one in her big bustling city the fate is the same, they are either mothers before they are ready, or they are caught up in unsafe abortion practices, or they are left to struggle in a marriage they are barely prepared for. Nigeria has achieved giant strides in the health sector and now competes favorably with its counterparts across the globe and serves as a destination for medical tourism to the smaller countries surrounding it. However, it is time we as a Nation accept the fact that while we uphold our cultural and religious sensitivities our adolescents are picking a strong interest in their sexuality and subsequently experimenting. It is, therefore, our duty as a nation to help them successfully cross this period of their lives and still thrive, without paying the dire price of forgoing their dreams, aspirations, and education.
Project Godiya aims to be the voice of the young girl in Jema’a area of Kaduna state in North-western Nigeria. The aim of the initiative is to fight back on behalf of the girl child by ensuring her right to adequate sexual education, empowerment, and support.
The first aim of the initiative is a massive onsite campaign in 5 secondary schools in Jema’a targeting young women ages 13-18, and ensuring that they are vastly educated on topics relating to their sexuality. The emphasis has been on how to be safe should they decide to be sexually active and lastly the importance of speaking up if they are confused or have any sex related question.
Secondly, the initiative seeks to provide an adolescent-friendly clinic, aimed at providing any woman of any age family planning services and advise. The clinic is to be a safe place, free of culture, religion or judgment. Project Godiya believes that if young women are sexually empowered with both tools and knowledge needed to engage in safe sexual practices, we can eradicate teenage pregnancies and school dropouts.
Lastly, the project is aimed at supporting young mothers who are barely children themselves. We believe that no girl should be out of school because she is having a baby. The project aims to champion advocacy to the state government to ensure that girls are not expelled from school because they are pregnant, and also to provide a safe space for these girls to keep their children while they are in school.
The DHS Program (Demographic and Health Surveys) 2013. USAID Publication. Accessed 17/04/2019Alabi O.T and Oni I.O. Teenage Pregnancy in Nigeria: Causes, Effect and Control ; DOI: 10.6007/IJARBSS/v7-i2/2610. Accessed 28/03/2019. Damilola Oyedele. Face The Truth; e-paper no. 8 2017. Page 2. Accessed 03/04/2019