Hands Off Our Girls! Hands Off Our Pockets!

“If adolescent pregnancy prevention is to become a priority, then our strategy, as advocates, must contain two key elements: civic engagement and education.”– Jane Fonda

Sierra Leoneans are generally known to have a quip sense of humor. And so it is when First Lady Fatima Bio launched her “Hands off our girls!” national campaign, young and older men on whom many girls, from poor homes without any means of finding their livelihood, depend wholly and solely on for their livelihood and sustenance quickly came up with the counter: “Hands Off Our Pockets!” I could not help but laugh merrily at that.

It is mind-boggling that in this modern day and age, where it seems the drawbacks of teen pregnancy are well disseminated, the teenage pregnancy rate is not getting better in the country. Why?

With due respect to First Lady Madam Bio’s concern to eradicate the complex problem of teenage marriage and pregnancy in our society, what we first need to do is to know and understand the causes of the problem.

Everybody complains that with our children focusing on the wrong things, too many girls are getting pregnant. So what must be done to curb the incidences of teen pregnancy in Sierra Leone?

The best place to start is to understand what fuels it! Teen moms are shred to bits and pieces for getting pregnant. People forget that these girls do not magically get pregnant. Boys must be educated about the consequences of sex just as much as girls. And men, who engage in such acts, should be heavily fined.

Generally, research shows that teenage pregnancy is fuelled by six main factors in Sierra Leone:

1. Attitude
If we want to see a reduction in teen pregnancies, we have to be willing to do what is necessary to make that change occur. It requires a collective effort from all Sierra Leoneans. And it first starts with a positive shift in our attitudes. It is easy to shift blame. It is easy to make excuses. It is easy to just expect others to do the necessary work.

But combating teen pregnancy starts at the home. As a parent, it is your duty to show love, care and attention to your daughter. It is your duty to speak to your daughter about sex and what it entails. In Sierra Leone, it is seen as a taboo to discuss sex with your children. But gone are the days in which heart to heart discussions about such matters are not important. It is a bit naive to expect to raise children now in the same manner children were raised 40-50 years ago. Times have changed. Parents need to accept that. And equip themselves with the skills to raise these kids. Kids are more inquisitive now. If you do not arm them with necessary information, they go out there to get answers. And eventually, unwanted pregnancies happen.

2. Perception
In Sierra Leone, it is not uncommon to find men, even parents, judge the physical and sexual maturity of a child by the fullness of her breasts, size of her hips and the start of the menstrual cycle. It is seen as the status quo. And why mess up a good thing, uh?

3. Poverty
According to World Vision, Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries. Around 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. And men take advantage of girls in need.

A lot of parents who are broken, tired and out of options choose to encourage their daughters to have boyfriends – Whether they be their age group or not) just to receive money. And thus, in just a matter of time, these girls with very little or no sexual education wind up pregnant.

4. Lack of Quality Education and Job Opportunities
Every year, new schools are opening. Is it about the quantity of schools or the quality? Everybody is complaining that there is a shortage of teachers in the country. So where are these new schools getting their teachers? And to top it off, teachers are frustrated and frequently strike. Teachers are unqualified.

Teachers exploit students – so many cases of teachers having love affairs and sex with their female students. Outlaw this.
Standard quality education is what is needed in Sierra Leone.

With that, girls would be more properly motivated to concentrate on school work. Job opportunities need to be increased with matching salaries. You cannot expect the average Sierra Leonean parent to put all his blood, sweat and tears into educating his children when the employment rate after gaining a bachelor’s degree is so miserably low! What incentive is there?

5. Peer Pressure

Peer group influence is and reason for teenage pregnancy. Girls now want to have the most expensive phone, clothes, etc, which their friends have but can’t not afford. They go the extra mile to have what their friends have.

6. Environment/society

Society has a great role in the upbringing and moral and ethical outlook of children. If there are no good role models to look up to, the children will not copy any good thing but only the negative things.


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