City Life

How Ogun recorded surge in teenage pregnancies, sexual assaults during COVID-19 lockdown

When the Ogun State government announced a state wide lockdown on Friday, April 3, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, not everyone envisaged what the outcome of the lockdown would be. As the state battled to survive the ravaging pandemic, schools, religious centres, offices, markets and other public places were all shutdown for more than six months.

This resulted in untold hardships for many residents of the state, especially those who are low income earners, those whose survival depended on a meagre daily income. The inability of the government to provide adequate palliatives to the people further aggravated their woes.

While many are yet to overcome the socioeconomic effect of the lockdown, others are still counting the losses they recorded during the pandemic period. Students were perhaps the most affected by the lockdown, while they lost more than two terms of an academic session, some of the students and other teenagers were engaged unproductive activities, including unsafe premarital sex.

Teenage girls became the most vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown, many of them became preys in the hands of sexual predators who took advantage of their vulnerability. Incidents of sexual assaults, such as rape, defilement and abuse, among others, took an alarming up turn. A victim of one of such cases is 19-year-old Adeyemi Elizabeth (not real name) who was raped and impregnated during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The SS2 student of a public secondary school in Yewa North Local Government Area of the state was allegedly raped by her class mate, identified as Quyum. According to her, Quyum, who had been making advances on her before the COVID-19 break, laid an ambush for her with the help of another friend. “On the day of the incident, I was deceived by my friend who I had gone to for financial assistance.

Unknown to me, it was Quyum who was already waiting for me. As usual, he told me that he would, but I vehemently rejected him. “He pushed me and I fell, then he pinned me down, I was struggling with him, but he overpowered me….” Elizabeth at this point could not finish her statement as she broke down and burst into tears. Elizabeth, suffers from both speech and hearing impairments, said she screamed and shouted the best way she could to attract the attention of people who could rescue her, but unfortunately, no one could hear her because of her challenges.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth did not report the incident to the authorities, neither did she tell her mother because of fear of discrimination. She only confined in her friends. It was two months later when she missed her period that she told her mother of the sexual assault by Quyum. With tears rolling down her eyes, Elizabeth said, she regretted not reporting the incident to her mother, saying: “When the incident happened, I could not confide in my mother.

I feared she would send me away or even kill me.” Elizabeth, like many others was abandoned to her fate, as the family of the boy responsible for the pregnancy denied that their son was responsible. Since she gave birth to a baby girl, three months ago, Elizabeth and her mother have been the ones taking up the responsibility of the child. Elizabeth said, Quyum refused paternity of her daughter, while his parents have also been of little or no help.

She said: “When I got pregnant, he (Quyum) denied paternity of the baby and his parents also insisted that their son was not responsible for my pregnancy. “My mother took me to her grandmother in Abeokuta who took care of me during my pregnancy period, and I gave birth there.

It was after child birth that I came back to parent’s house and I resumed my schooling. “I always drop my baby with my mother wherever I’m going to school. She has been the one taking care of the baby. “The father has never given me any money to take care of the baby, it has always been my mother who has been taking the full responsibility of the baby.

“For instance, if my baby’s food finishes and I take the baby to his family to collect money for the food, they would say they don’t have any money or may give just N500, it is my mother that will look for the money to buy food for the baby. “I did not have any relationship with him, even though we are in the same class.

We don’t even talk. Before the school went on the COVID- 19 break, he has been disturbing me to be his girlfriend. He would send love letters to me through his friends, but I never replied, nor did I spoke to him. I have always been rejecting this advances towards me.” According to available records at the Ogun State police command, no fewer than 64 cases of rape were recorded last year compared to 44 cases recorded in 2019. The records further shown that, 73 cases of defilement of minors were reported in 2020 as against 39 cases recorded in 2019 while 11 cases of sexual abuse were recorded in the state.

A self-acclaimed prophet, Ebenezer Ajigbotoluwa was arrested by the men of the police command for allegedly impregnating two underage sisters. The 57-year-old prophet was arrested in August for impregnating the 16-year-old and 13-yearold sisters and procuring an abortion for them at a private hospital.

He, however, claimed that he was legally married to one of the sisters with consent of her parents. Another victim of teenage pregnancy, Sekinat Ogundele (not her real name) said, hardship and lack of parental care pushed her into getting pregnant during the lockdown period. She had tasted motherhood when some of her mates are still in school trying build a future for themselves.

The 19-year-old auxiliary nurse apprentice at a maternity centre in Abeokuta, the state capital, said, even before the COVID-19 lockdown, she had been the one taking care of herself through the little income she makes from her apprenticeship. “But when the income was no longer forthcoming, I had to look elsewhere, luckily for me, my boyfriend was able to help in a little way. “At the beginning, I would pay him visits at his place during the days the government permitted us to go out, but I later went to live with him temporarily.

“Initially, my mother was opposed to this, but there was nothing she could do because she had four other mouths to feed and I leaving was a blessing in disguise. “But, things took a turn for the worse when I got pregnant. My boyfriend changed and stopped caring again.

I went back to live with my mother. “When I got pregnant during the COVID-19 lockdown in July last year, it was like the world was coming to an end for me. I did not get adequate health care service because things were so difficult and there was no money to get myself registered in the hospital.” Sekinat’s pregnancy prevented her from completing her apprenticeship and three months, after giving birth, she lost her baby due to inadequate healthcare for both herself and her baby and she is now back at home with her mother helping her in her petty trade.

“I gave birth at home because I could not afford to register at the hospital. It was not easy at all. My baby and I didn’t get adequate health service, even after I gave birth, I didn’t go to the hospital and my baby fell sick. “At first we were treating the baby at home with herbs and drugs that we bought over the counter from operators of patent medicine stores. But, unfortunately the baby died after three months,” she explained. Although, Sekinat admitted that she was aware of family planning, but she did not uptake any family planning method because of the myths and misconceptions surrounding it.

“I was advised to take up a family planning method since I was not prepared to be pregnant, but I declined because I have heard some people saying family planning have side effects and this scared me away from adopting a family planning method.

“I have completed my secondary school education but I’m learning to be an auxiliary nurse at a private clinic in my area. “I would have loved to continue my education at the tertiary institution of my choice, but my parents are not financially buoyant. I have not even completed my apprenticeship as an auxiliary nurse, the pregnancy has caused a setback for me.

“Teenagers should start taking responsibility for their lives, they should stop blaming anybody for their mistakes. For those that are already pregnant, that is not the end of the world,” she said. The state government had expressed concern over possible increase in teenage pregnancy among school girls during the lockdown period.

The state’s Commissioner for Health, Dr. Tomi Coker, who disclosed this in an interview with some representatives of the Network of Reproductive Health Journalists of Nigeria (NRHJN), said teenagers, especially school girls who could not engage in productive activities may turn to sex as recreation. She advised parents to encourage their young girls to visit the Youth Friendly Centres located in some of the Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in the state for counselling and advice from health professionals.

Coker also expressed worry about the increasing rate of rape and other gender based violence during the period of school closure and advised parents to introduce sex education to their children to prevent unwanted pregnancy, reduce maternal mortality and sexually transmitted diseases. She said: “I have been very worried about the COVID-19 period because young individuals are out of school, they are not engaged positively, so they may end up turning to sex as recreation and that might lead to increase rate of teenage pregnancies and loss of school years and life opportunities and even the risk of ending up dying from septic abortions.”

A study carried out by the Adolescents 360 (A360) Project of the Society for Family Health (SFH) in the state in 2020, revealed that, 92,400 teenage pregnancies were recorded between December, 2017 and July, 2020. The study further revealed that, there are 609,000 sexually active teenagers in the state.

“In the state, 4.5 percent and 5.3 percent of boys and girls, respectively have engaged in sexual intercourse by age 10. More than 60 percent of young people aged 15-29 are sexually active and up to 19 percent of females aged 15-19 have begun childbearing,” the report stated. Another study carried out by “The Youth Future Saver Initiative”, (a non-governmental Organisation working on the reduction of teenage pregnancy) revealed that, Sagamu Local Government Area of the state recorded

109 teenage pregnancies, Obafemi Owode LGA recorded 717 while Ijebu North had 542 teenage pregnancies between 2020 till date. The state’s Programme Coordinator of the NGO, Mr. Akinpelu Akintayo listed the challenges faced by teenagers to include stigmatisation, the cultural, religious beliefs, ignorant on the part of parents to speak on sexuality education with their young adolescent, unfavourable government policy on abortion, lack of youth friendly services within community, among others.

He admitted there was increase the rate of teenage pregnancy and sexual assaults on teenagers during the COVID-19 lockdown period, saying: “During COVID-19 pandemic, lots of cases were reported on sexual harassment which led to cases of unplanned pregnancy among the young girls.” According to him, poverty, child negligence, lack of school monitoring and counselling on child safeguarding, cultural attitude, religious beliefs, early marriage, lack of proper information on sexuality education both at home and in schools are some of the factors responsible for the prevalence of teenage pregnancy in the state. He said, many parents are afraid to discuss sexual issues with their teenage children: “Because they (parents) think when they discuss sexual education with their girls, this might expose them more to immorality.”

The Adolescents Sexual Reproductive Health (ASRH) Coordinator of the A360 Project in the state, Mrs. Blessing Olusomaka attributed the high prevalence of teenage pregnancy in the state to low comprehensive knowledge of ASRH, disclosing that only about 30 percent of the state adolescent population are aware of ASRH. She also identified, poor funding of ASRH by the state government, in adequate youth friendly centres (only five in the whole state out of which two are in the same local government area) and lack of easy access of adolescents to sexual and reproductive health services, among others as factors responsible the high prevalence of teenage pregnancy in the state. The Director of Primary Health Care Board in the state, Dr. Sani Salimat said, the attitudinal behaviour of health worker is one of the major factors discouraging teenagers from visiting adolescent youth friendly centres in the state for reproductive health care services and counselling.

She added that, teenagers preferred to seek help from operators of patent and medicine stores rather than visit adolescent youth friendly centres for professional advice on sexual reproductive health service. Her words: “If they (teenagers) fail to visit these adolescent youths friendly centres, they won’t have access to the right reproductive health services because they will tend to seek those services in the wrong places and they have wrong information, they will have the wrong service and that may actually affect their reproductive health and increase the rate of unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion, sexually transmitted infections and other health issues that surrounds unsafe sexual practices.

Because they will not go to the right place they will go to their peers who will give them wrong information or probably they patronize traditional herbs sellers and those ways maybe dangerous to them.” Although, she noted that the state may not have current data to link the surge in teenage pregnancy to the COVID-19 lockdown period, but admitted that, there was increase in the rate of teenage pregnancy due to the lockdown. “We do not have the data on teenage pregnancy during the period of COVID-19 lockdown. But when teenagers are not appropriately engaged and do not have enough information for them to have a safe sexual life, that will increase the rate of teenage pregnancy,” she said.

Sani disclosed that the state is planning to capture more adolescents in its family planning programme to reduce adolescent pregnancy and procurement of unsafe abortion by adolescents. “Our adolescent reproductive health clinic is opened for adolescents at all levels. It is expected that adolescents are free to discuss their sexual life and those that want to opt for family planning methods are given freedom, depending on the assessment of the health care workers,” she said.

• This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Free to share project.

 

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