As the number of sexually active adolescents is on the rise resulting in unplanned pregnancies and abortions, concerned medical personnel crave unhindered access to contraceptives among adolescents.
Beside this, stakeholders and non-governmental organisations express the need to provide adolescents with comprehensive sex education and informed access to contraceptives to prevent unexpected pregnancies and avoidable deaths arising from abortions.
Mr. Effiom Effiom, the Country Director, Marie Stopes International Organisation, Nigeria, says studies by Guttmacher Institute that more than 1.2 million unsafe abortions happen in Nigeria every year ought to be a serious concern for stakeholders.
“Unsafe abortion is a major public health problem in Nigeria as it contributes significantly to maternal morbidity and mortality.
“56 per cent of unintended pregnancies are resolved by abortions and most female who have had an abortion were younger than 25 years of age.
“Poor access to relevant reproductive health and family planning information and services, lack of life skills and low contraceptive usage are some of the factors that contribute significantly to the high vulnerability of young people to unsafe abortion.
“Barriers preventing young people from accessing contraception and comprehensive sexuality education are increasing the chances of unplanned pregnancies which could end up robbing young people of their life chances.
“Currently, adolescents who want to use contraception to prevent an unplanned pregnancy are being denied it because of the various myths and misconceptions about family planning methods,’’ Effiom explains.
The country director notes that preventing access to contraceptives and sexuality education does not stop young people from having sex, rather it increases the chance that young women would experience an unplanned pregnancy.
According to him, unplanned pregnancy can limit the ability of young people to remain in education and realise their full potential.
The country director therefore calls on the Federal Government to implement interventions that will improve the delivery of health services to adolescents as a means of facilitating their access to the use of contraceptives.
In addition to this, Mrs Veronica Gandu, a guardian, pleads with parents not to shy away from the reality that their children may become or have become sexually active and work towards providing adequate sex education for them.
“Religiously, you can just encourage the youth to abstain from sex but facing reality and what is obtained in the society today, whether we like it or not when children go out to meet friends, they get influenced.
“It is now very important to educate them, let them learn the proper way so that the child will know exactly what to do and what not to do.
“Gone are the days when you can hide things from children; now it is best to begin sex education from the primary schools.
“This is because it is in the primary schools that a lot of children start getting exposed to sex because some are already getting sexually exploited at this age.
“So it has become paramount for children to start getting enlightened and educated at a very young age’’, Gandu says.
Similarly, Mrs Ene Edeh, an activist and gender advisor, advises parents, guardians, religious leaders and civil society organisations to face the reality that adolescents are exposed to the internet now more than ever before.
Edeh says this exposure to the internet has facilitated their involvement in sexual activities and experiments from an early age, putting them at risk of having unplanned pregnancies and abortions.
“We must all start addressing this problem by first facing the reality that adolescents are sexually active and begin to relate and talk to them in a realistic and practical manner.
“If we face the reality of what is happening around us, then we will know the right thing to do; this issue is a very delicate one because even talking about sexuality education and getting people to understand and accept basic things they get embarrassed and say this should not be discussed in the open.
“But the reality still remains that this age bracket is sexually active and because of their exposure to internet, you find adolescents knowing things fast and mostly things they should not be exposed to at their age.
“The church, civil right groups, corporate Nigerians, Federal Government should work towards organising and encouraging a sexuality education that will not be harmful to the society.
“You need to teach and enlighten adolescents on a level of sexuality that is practical and realistic.
“They should be able to relate to this, including the dangers involved and allow them to have knowledge and choices about the use of contraceptives.
“Why I am not for or against the use of contraceptives by adolescents is because you will never get the cooperation and understanding of people; you will also never get them not to abuse contraceptives’’, she observes.
She says the danger of abortion and the danger of ignorance are worse than the use of contraceptives.
“This does not mean I encourage it but adolescents need to be educated and informed so they are better able to make informed decisions and choices.
“Open discussions are held everywhere and the youth ask questions about their sexuality and they are not victimised for that; this is what should be happening here in Nigeria,’’ Edeh observes further.
But Dr. Ugochi Ohajuruka, the Executive Director, Health Aid For All Initiative an non-governmental organisation, observes that the issue of contraceptive for adolescents is controversial because of the cultural and religious factors.
According to her, parents have continued to preach abstinence to their children but unfortunately, abstinence is no longer a reality with adolescents of the present age and time.
“Our adolescents are exposed to all kinds of vice from the internet to the music they listen to and the kinds of television programmes they watch.
“This kind of negates the culture of sticking to abstinence before marriage because when they see all this things their hormones begin to play a massive role in turning their minds towards exploring their sexuality, making abstinence difficult for them.
“Going down to the local communities also, we come across a lot of teenagers who are already experimenting with sex and the issue of sexuality education not being taught makes it even harder.
“Teenage pregnancy is on the rise in Nigeria and it is worse in rural communities; unsafe abortion is also on the rise among the youth.
“Yes, we want them to stay away from sex and we keep preaching abstinence but I strongly believe that we should make contraceptives available to them and they should be taught about the use.
“Every parent wants their children to abstain from sex but how practical is that in this present time?’’ Ohajuruka asks.
She notes that lack of proper data on teenage pregnancy, abortions, deaths by unsafe abortion and adolescents with sexually transmitted diseases in the country, are also major problems that ought to be addressed.
“Availability of data will help to also push ongoing advocacy on the use of contraceptives in the country’’, she insists.
Stakeholders, therefore, urge governments at all levels to fast track ongoing efforts in addressing the spate of teenage pregnancies and abortions in the country by providing a safer environment for the youth.
• Yashim writes for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)