Introduction who lack childcare experience, thereby putting more burden

Introduction

Liberia
is one of 15 countries found in the West Coast of Africa, and it borders with
Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire. According to Liberian government
information sources, the country has a population of about 4.6 million. The
country has experienced many challenges like two civil wars and the outbreak of
the deadly Ebola virus about two years ago. Although slowly recovering, reports
from Plan International and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities
(UNFPA) in 2013 indicate that teenage pregnancy is increasing at an alarming
rate in the country, affecting its socioeconomic and cultural development. The
high rate of teenage pregnancy has significantly contributed to increasing
dropouts from schools, illiteracy, and therefore, poverty. Also, according to a
the same report from UNFPA, teenage
pregnancy in Liberia has led to early motherhood among teenage girls who lack
childcare experience, thereby putting more burden and responsibilities on
parents (who become grandparents to children of the teenagers). This is
evidenced in many research findings like one from Tamera M. Young and
colleagues (2001), through which they concluded that teenagers and adolescents
who bear children lead to negative effects on the inexperienced mother, the
offspring, and the society in general. Additionally, various sources like Population
Council: Sexual Behavior, Contraceptive Practice, and Reproductive Health Among
Liberian Adolescents (2017) has shown that sexual behavior among adolescents and teenage boys and girls
who are sexually active sometimes ignore safe sex practices like condom and
contraception use. Such ignorance therefore leads to the transmission and
increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, hepatitis,
gonorrhea, etc. Irrespective of the many challenges in
addressing teenage pregnancy in Liberia, the government and international
organizations like Plan International, UNICEF, UNFPA, and community based
organizations are working hard and tirelessly to implement programs that focus
on the reduction of teenage pregnancy and safe sex practices, targeting both
those who in and out of school.

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The
Impact of Teenage Pregnancy: Education is a human
right requirement for every child; every child should therefore be given the necessary
support to promote his/her educational ambition. In promoting the importance of
the girl-child education in Liberia using religion through the Catholic Church,
Elizabeth Piliyesi quoted Article 26 of the United Nations, stating that “Article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of
Human Rights says that everyone has a right to education and that this
education shall be free and compulsory.” When this right is denied to a child
or interrupted, the end result or outcome is realized in negative ways like
increase in teenage pregnancies, and higher rates of school dropouts. Teen
pregnancy is a serious problem because it affects not only the victim but
society as a whole. Liberia, like almost all of
other countries in West Africa, has an overwhelming amount of teenage
pregnancies, resulting in young and potential teenagers, especially girls
dropping out of school while pregnant, leading them to end up forfeiting the
opportunity of completing secondary school education. Also, teenage
girls who are pregnant and become mothers in developing countries often raise
children who never learn how to live productive lifestyles due to lack of
parental care and responsibilities. Another negative effect of teenage
pregnancy (as stated by Michelle Hindin, 2014) is that, when a girl becomes
pregnant in our society, she is overwhelmed with the pressure of supporting the
child financially while lacking the knowledge on how to instill morals and
ethics in the baby’s life. She is also faced with the emotional torture
associated with the blame game from parents while the perpetrator, usually a
male peer, tends to deny the act for either fear of reaction from the parents
of the girl or because of lack of resources to support both the girlfriend and
the baby. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), teenage
pregnancy is identified as one of the main problems that continue to destroy
the education of the girlchild, thereby ruining their future. According to Plan
International, the causes of teenage pregnancy include a lack of access to
sexual and reproductive health education and services. This is so true because
certain cultures and religions in Liberia, like the Mandingo tribe and the
Islamic religion perceive contraception as forbidden. Mandingo people believe
that pregnancy is from God and that there should not be any scientific or
artificial barrier to stop it, except from God Himself. Because of such belief,
they discourage against the use of contraception, especially those in rural
areas where advanced education is lacking. Also, cultural practice like early
marriage is very common among the Mandingo and Vai tribes in Liberia, and those
two tribes are among the largest in the country. As reported by the United
Nations Population Fund, although the International Conference on Population
and Development (ICPD), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
make commitments to eliminate harmful traditional practices such as child
marriage and child pregnancy, many families among the Mandingo and Vai
communities in Liberia still encourage such practices by forcing their female
children into early marriages against their wishes. Although poverty may be a
leading cause for teenage pregnancy in many Sub-Saharan countries, other
contributing factors are also important to study while finding ways to minimize
the problem. Besides poverty, other causes of teenage pregnancy in Liberia include,
but not limited to early marriage, lack of girl-child education due to cultural
perceptions, and peer pressure. Additionally, in a report published by Plan
International on the rise of teenage pregnancies in Liberia, and Sierra Leone,
the Ebola outbreak was found to be another contributing factor. During the
Ebola outbreak in those two countries, children were forced to stay home
instead of going to school. In brief, the report concluded that teenage
pregnancies are on the rise in West Africa, as girls forced to stay out of
school due to Ebola become more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, sexual assault,
and rape. Many African countries that have higher rates of teenage pregnancies
and school dropouts experience face the consequences of increased poverty. In
many sub-Saharan countries,
“even the well-governed parts, is stuck in a poverty trap, too poor to
achieve robust, high levels of economic growth and, in many places, simply too
poor to grow at all” (Sachs, P. 122). This explanation is true because a
country without young and educated generation may not have the ability to
engage in effective employment/production.

Cultural, Religious, and
Socio-Economic Effect of Teenage Pregnancy, including Theoretical: The overwhelming increase in
teenage pregnancy in Liberia and many other Global South countries can be
interpreted from different perspectives. Culturally, tribes like Mandingo and
Vai in Liberia, like the Fulla tribe in Sierra Leone, do not allow the use of
contraceptives. Those two tribes are among the largest ethnic groups in the
country. During my dialogue with a former nurse at the government hospital in
Monrovia, Janjay Frank (a Mandingo by tribe), told me that many Mandingo women,
especially those in rural areas believe that contraceptives are made by the
white man (Global Northerners) to stop people from the Global South from having
children. Also, they believe that once someone starts using contraceptives,
especially birth control pills, that woman will never have children again, even
after she stops using them. Because of such perception, both Mandingo and Vai
women don’t encourage or allow their daughters to use contraceptives as ways of
preventing unwanted pregnancies. Religiously, those two tribes – Mandingo and
Vai people mostly practice Islam. In relating Islam to the use of
contraceptives, Janjay also told me that Muslim women in the rural areas of
Liberia like Foyah do not believe in the use of any scientific means of
controlling birth. She even gave a personal testimony during her secondary
school days. She explained that her mother, a Mandingo by tribe, used to warn
her strictly never to use any form of scientific birth control, stating that
childbearing is from God and that God does not give someone responsibility that
person cannot handle. Being my coworker, Janjay was open to disclose more about
her tribe and personal story. She told me that during her teenage years,
pregnancies among teenagers were very common in her village. Sadly, little to
nothing was done by community leaders to stop the problem, until the late 1980s
when other tribes started settling in the community. For many developing countries
like Liberia, teenage pregnancy can be attributed to poverty or socio-economic
status. As a member of the Mandingo tribe, she also explained the socio-economic
perceptions of why mothers encourage their daughters to sleep with wealthy men.
In many rural settings in Liberia, (as stated explained by Janjay), especially
in Mandingo and Vai dominated communities, female parents allow their daughters
to sleep with men who provide financial support to whether the mother or the
child, even if the man is married or has significant age difference with their
daughter. With my experience growing up in my village in Bafodia (Sierra
Leone), female parents used to solicit favors in exchange for relationship or
sex with their daughters from men who would provide services to them like farm
work, give them money, or buy them items (clothing). Also, girls who are from
poverty-stricken homes a most times vulnerable to men like NGO workers,
teachers, and other members of the communities who give them money or any form
of material assistance. In return for such favors, those men either end up
seeking sex from the girls or girls make themselves available for sex. When
parents allow their teenage daughters to sleep with men in exchange for good
and services, they usually do not thing of the long term effects on the child
and society as a whole.  They fail to
understand that “experience has shown, over and over again, that investment in
girl’s education translate directly and quickly into better nutrition for the
whole family, better health care, declining fertility, poverty reduction, and
better overall economic performance” (Millennium Report, 2014, as cited by Piliyesi).
There is a popular saying in African settings that when you educate a boy, you
educate an individual; when you educate a girl, you educate an entire nation.
There are many benefits why girls should be educated but some parents in
Liberia only look at the immediate or short term benefits they receive at the
expense of their daughter’s future.

In
applying theories to teenagers engaging in sexual behaviors, researchers have
used different theories to explain the problem and even developed possible solutions
like pregnancy prevention programs. For example, the theory of reasoned action, emphasize individual perceptions
(Fishbein & Ajzen, 1980, 1975), emphasizing the importance of an intention
to engage in a behavior. This theory attempts to explain the factors that
determine that intention. Factors presumed to influence such intentions consist
of (1) one’s belief regarding the outcome of the behavior in question; (2)
one’s assessment that the outcome of the behavior is good or desirable; (3)
one’s assessment that the outcome is desired by significant others; and (4) the
individual’s motivation to comply with the preferences of these significant
others. According to this model, an adolescent would have to believe that
avoiding sex will prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, that
avoiding pregnancy and STIs is desirable. On the contrary, teenage girls who
solicit gifts in exchange for sex mostly consider those gifts as desirable.
Also, the pleasure they get from engaging in sexual acts lead them to conclude
that sex is as well desirable in their lives. Furthermore, gifts can serve as
motivation for both parents and girls, especially those from poor homes. The
material benefits they receive motivate them to engage in such acts, forgetting
about the consequences of unwanted pregnancies and STIs.

Interventions of the Liberian
Government, and the International Community in Addressing Teenage Pregnancy. To
intervene in this growing problem of teen pregnancy and its effects not only in
Liberia, but other developing countries as a whole, various approaches have
been applied by both the government of Liberia and its international partners. During
the Family Planning Summit in the UK in July, 2017, (which met to discuss ways
of improving contraceptives and education relating to safe sex practices), the
Liberian government made the following commitment, to:

1.                 
Scale
up youth-friendly health services in health facilities and family planning
services at community level with an aim to

a.                  
Increase
adolescent & young people access to sexual & reproductive health
information & services, and

b.                 
to
provide comprehensive sexuality education, social marketing, community-based
outreach, community engagement and mobilization and peer education nationwide
by 2019;

1.                 
Leverage
its public-private partnership agreement to increase clients’ sourcing of
contraceptives from the private sector by 10%;

2.                 
Reduce
stock outs of contraceptives by reforming its supply chain system for
delivering safe healthcare commodities efficiently and effectively; and

3.                 
Provide
all family planning services and commodities free of charge. 

In
complementing the commitments of the government, international Non-Governmental
Organizations like Plan International, the Norwegian Organization in Liberia,
and the Federation of Liberia Youth (FLY), among others, have designed programs
that recommended sex education teachings in schools and clinics on daily basis.
The UNFPA also recommended for parents to be educated on how to raise a child
and how to teach values and ethics in the home. Ignorance about vital subjects
like birth control methods, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy,
male/female relationships, love, dating and marriage is a primary reason why
there are so many pregnancies by teenage mothers. The more people are educated
about pre-marital sex and its consequences, the more likely it is that teen
pregnancy rates will decrease. 

In conclusion, educating teenagers, both boys and
girls about either abstinence or safe sex is very important. Culture or
religion should not be used as excuse to prevent children from learning the
importance of delaying sex or practicing safe sex to prevent both unwanted
pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Moreover, it is possible that
by designing programs that prevent teenagers from becoming pregnant, such
interventions will increase their chances of finishing secondary schools.
Teenage pregnancy has serious negative effect in nation building. According to
UNFPA, teenage pregnancy violates the rights of girls, with life-threatening
consequences in terms of sexual and reproductive health, and poses high
development costs for communities, particularly in perpetuating the cycle of
poverty. In order to promote the rights of girls and minimize the number of
school dropouts, collective efforts should continue to be made with different
intervention programs and evaluation methods. If interventions are successful,
Liberia and other countries affected by higher rates of teenage pregnancy will
realize positive changes, boost the girl-child education, and eventually
eradicate poverty.