It doesn’t take one to live that moment to know that it can be a daunting reality when your 13 or 15-year-old daughter comes to you to tell you she is pregnant, however, it also doesn’t mean that she has to be rejected or isolated, because her life has not ended, it could just have started.
Imagine that young girl, when she was a little child, she drew imaginary pictures of what life would be like when she got older, she could have dreamt to be a doctor, lawyer, renown singer, police officer, journalist, teacher or something special; but she never planned or thought of the idea that she could become a teen mother.
So, instead of discriminating her from the community or telling her that she will not live to be anything or anyone that matters, the best thing would be to support her and devise varied strategies to prevent early pregnancy, because one strategy cannot do the trick for such a technologically changing world.
Break the silence
Break the culture of silence and promote sex talk among the young children, even before they are teenagers.
In most African societies including Rwanda, discussing about sex education is considered a taboo yet teenagers today are more exposed to various conversations and ideas about sex way earlier than it used to be in the traditional societies.
The dialogue about sex can start with simple elements like introducing them to their reproductive health parts, either introduced by parents, caregivers or teachers.
The importance of introducing the topic early is to prevent any other person who could talk to them about it with their ulterior motives.
When the sex talk is started, the girl is also inspired to care about herself emotionally as well as physically.
I can’t refute the fact that the best choice would be to promote abstinence but how many parents can attest to underscoring that message with their daughters successfully, if any, they are very few.
So, since young people today are over exposed to sexual content with little or no preparedness, it’s important to make birth control methods available to youth in a bid to reduce their sexual risk behaviors, with an emphasis on the use of condoms to prevent transmission of diseases as well as early pregnancies.
Condoms should be accessible in places that accommodate the youth , hospitals and public areas and the young people ought to know that it’s okay to have one when they need it “no shame in it at all”.
Publicly available contraceptive services could avert many miscarriages or teen pregnancies or even the spontaneous abortions among teens.
Lay out the consequences
I know that forced fatherhood is not fair and I also know that this could be its own debate with some saying it can’t be forced if they made the decision to get involved in the sexual intercourse, while others would say that it conception needs to be consented.
Either way, I am not an advocate of forced fatherhood but I believe that there should be harsh punitive measures for men/boys who impregnate teenagers.
This could sound harsh but if you looked at it at both sides, it could help, the teenagers need to know that that are consequences for their reckless actions, like the girl need to know that she will get pregnant and have a child, for whom she will have to meet the parenting responsibilities, while the boy needs to know that he will become a teen father and could face jail and if its man who impregnated a teenager, then the story would be different, harsher punishment.
Teens need to be aware of the harsh reality of raising a baby and the negative effects that an unplanned pregnancy can cause for both the mother and the child's life.
Improving social and economic wellbeing
There is a particular sect of youth who could be at a higher risk of teenage pregnancy, like those who are involved in drug and alcohol use, those with low self-esteem or those who are victims of sexual and domestic abuse.
However, especially in rural areas, girls from poor and vulnerable households are also at a high risk of teen pregnancy, thus, raising the need to improve the social and economic welfare for such communities, since poverty is not a foreign root cause of teen pregnancies.
This could entail equipping them with the economic capacity to access school and the basic necessities but also train them on critical thinking, a skill that helps them make informed decisions and resist manipulation.
Support young mothers
Becoming a mother is hard, but becoming a young mother is harder, especially if you are rejected, isolated and discriminated.
But becoming a teen mother doesn’t mean that her life has ended, so it’s imperative to support her to access health care facilities to access the right amount and right kind of food, give her a hope for a good future ahead, provide her the psychosocial support to deal with trauma as a result of her pregnancy, the discrimination and the caring for a child at a tender age, help her to go back to school and create some support groups for her to discuss about her dire challenges and experiences.
Most countries, developed, and underdeveloped, consider teenage pregnancy a social stigma and, it can have devastating effects on the teen's social life, reason why she needs to be supported as she faces the several major adjustments to her identity, a factor that particularly make her vulnerable to experiencing postpartum depression, stress and feelings of isolation.
As a social justice activist and public health practitioner, I think we need to understand these teenagers as they try hard on making their decisions regarding sexuality, parenthood, the perceptions about themselves and their assessments of the opportunities that await them.
Teenage pregnancy is a multifaceted issue that needs collective efforts from parents, teachers, caregivers, the government and civil society organizations, if it’s to be effectively addressed for the teens today and the future’s.
The writer is the Executive Director of Never Again Rwanda, PeaceBuilding &Social Justice Organization. He is also a Public Health Practitioner. The views expressed in this article are of the writer. Twitter @Josephnzizar