POVERTY: A ROOT CAUSE OF TEENAGE PREGNANCY
For a long time, teenage pregnancy has been one of the main obstacles contributing to the hinderance of socio-economic growth and development in Africa. A 2022 study by the World Population Review indicates that over 13 million children are born to women below the age of 20 years and 90% of these children (nearly 12 million in total) are born to teenage mothers in Africa.Moreover, statistics also indicate that Africa has the youngest population in the world with over 40% of the population aged 15 years and younger. For instance, Uganda has the world’s youngest population with over 78% of the total population aged below 30 years, however teenage pregnancies recorded between 2020 and 2021 amounted to almost 650,000. This implies that the issue of teenage pregnancy is a particularly daunting challenge restricting the overall potential for growth and economic progress within the younger demographic of Africa.
One of the root causes that have resulted in the persistent rise in the cases of teenage pregnancy on the continent is the high poverty rate. According to the World Bank, approximately, 85% of Africans live on less than $5.50 per day. This has led to extremely unfavorable living conditions aided by the inadequacy of food, clean water, medical care, and housing; moreover, the absence of basic needs makes it even more challenging to access secondary needs like education. With parents struggling to earn a living and sustain their families, there is little to no attention paid to their children to the extent that some of them completely neglect their roles as caretakers leaving these children to go out into the world on their own with no guidance or protection whatsoever. More often than not, this exposes children, both male and female, to the risk of engagement in early sex because they have a very minimal understanding of their body anatomy and puberty changes which also means they are unaware of the repercussions of having sexual intercourse.
Needless to say, living in a state of poverty doesn’t only impact the living conditions but also directly influences the mindsets and life perspectives of communities. In pursuit of a source of income, parents in poverty-stricken regions are more likely to regard their children as commodities, and thus giving them away for marriage at a young age in exchange for dowry payments. The high rates of early marriage simultaneously rise along with rates of teenage pregnancy because these two factors go hand in hand most of the time and particularly affect the female population given that they bear the very burden of unwanted pregnancy and early motherhood. In addition to this, the insecurity in poor communities where by crime rates are heightened due to the absence of active enforcement of the law also exacerbates the issue of teenage pregnancy. Young girls living in such areas are exposed to the risk of defilement at the hands of predatory men that in the end walk free and unpunished for their offenses while the girls are left to suffer the consequences of unwanted pregnancies.
Without a doubt, the high poverty rates continue to put the livelihoods of many young girls at stake, but in spite of that, poverty, like all other barriers has a solution. One of the most notable efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa implemented by both government bodies and non-governmental organizations besides donations is the initiation of community education programs. These involve equipping individuals living in poverty-stricken communities with practical skills and basics of entrepreneurial knowledge that can enable them to boost their income. For instance, agri-business programs focus on teaching farmers how to make more profits from their produce and shifting gradually from subsistence farming practices. Poverty alleviation would not only improve the overall living conditions, but also lead to increase in literacy levels, not to mention, the economic status of these households thus making room for safer communities for young girls to thrive and prosper.