Ogun state government on Wednesday expressed concern over the increasing rate of teenage pregnancy among school girls as a result of school closure following the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic.
The state commissioner for Health, Dr. Tomi Coker who disclosed this in an interview in a chat with journalists in Abeokuta, the State capital, urged parents to encourage their teenage children to visit the teenage units of Primary Health Centres in the State for counselling and advice from health professionals.
Coker also expressed worry over increasing rape incidents and other gender based violence during the period of school closure and advised parents to introduce family planning to their teenagers who are already sexually active.
The Commissioner said, introducing family planning to teenagers may be a difficult task because of religious and cultural inclinations, but to her, family planning is not only safe but also the best solution to unwanted pregnancy, abortion and maternal mortality.
She said, “It is absolutely good to introduce family planning to our teenagers and teenage mothers who are already sexually active.
“I would like to encourage both the young, even the women of marriageable age, married women and religious leaders that family planning is safe. It is good for us, it actually positions us in a better socioeconomic cadre worldwide and we need to embrace it in order to reduce the maternal mortality in our society and to give our children the best opportunity in life.”
Coker insisted that parents must also 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 teenage pregnancies and loss of school years and life opportunities and even the risk of ending up dying from septic abortions.
“We are going to be very vigilant, looking out for teenagers and probably dedicate a particular team in collaboration with the Women Affairs Ministry, we can work that out and drive a campaign focusing on the teenagers.
The Commissioner also urged parents to engage their children, especially teenagers in productive activities during this period of school closure to prevent them from turning to sex as recreation and to also build their self-esteem.
“Some people feel that when you start talking about sex, you are encouraging promiscuity, it’s fine balance and over time, we will ensure that we will get it right, but I’m sure that we have to start introducing it (family planning) as it is introduced in other countries.
“For instance, England in the 80s had the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe but that has drastically stopped because sexual education was introduced to the schools as early as primary school and so children knew that they didn’t need to engage in it (unprotected sex), they were not ignorant of the complications and implications of their choices and it’s about choices.
“Sex education is very important, it build their (teenagers) self-esteem and it makes them speak up when they need to speak up and then they don’t end up being victims of gender violence which is what I have also seen during this COVID-19 period.”
“In our tradition we like to believe that children, in quote are not meant to be talked to about sex, but the earlier we start talking to them about sex and safe sex, the better. It is very important because it’s of two folds, it’s about avoiding unwanted pregnancies and eventually the risk of maternal mortality from septic abortion and secondly, avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia and even HIV.
“As early as age 12, once they are in secondary school, we should start talking to them about sex and with parental consent, we should actually offer them some form of contraceptive and after 16, I think they have the liberty to make their own decisions if they want contraception or not, particularly when they get to the university.
“We need to do awareness drive and sex education in schools is not exclusive of the girls, it is for both the boys and girls and it is important, you never leave one out because it takes two to tangle. So, the sex education will be focused on both the boys and the girls.
“We have to work with the Ministry of Education, we have to get parental consent and that is where it becomes a little more complex because some of our parents are not educated enough to understand the dept of what we are trying to say.
“For us to progress socioeconomically, not just avoiding deaths there are a lot of job opportunities, ability to contribute to the labour market, that are missed when you have teenage pregnancies”, Coker said.