teenage mother story

World Vision working to tackle teenage pregnancy in Argotime-Ziope

It is a calm afternoon in Segbale Village, and in the distance, a very young girl with a slim frame is pounding fufu; a local cassava-based dish eaten across Ghana. Elderly women are gathering firewood and whilst mothers feed their babies, young children run past bleating goats. As you get closer to the girl pounding, you notice that a young child is strapped to her back. Seventeen-year-old Rejoice (pseudonym) has become a mother well before her time; she fell victim to teenage pregnancy. Rejoice explains that the incident happened over a year ago when her mother sent her to stay with an aunt in a neighbouring town, to further her education. She fell pregnant after ten weeks and was sent back home. To make matters worse, the man who impregnated her denied having done so. Rejoice explains that becoming a teenage mother has affected many aspects of her life: "I am struggling in so many areas of my life. I have very little access to food to feed myself and my child. I had to stop attending school and it traumatised me to see my classmates walking to school to get an education. I often face stigmatisation. My former colleagues will no longer join me for communal chores like fetching water."

Teenage pregnancies are very common in the Agortime-Ziope district, covered by a new Area Programme (AP) set up by World Vision in Ghana. Although females represent 51.8% of the population, traditional beliefs and practices in the district make women and children, like Rejoice, more vulnerable and susceptible to high levels of discrimination and marginalisation. They are also excluded from decision-making processes and taking up leadership roles, mainly because tradition prescribes them to be helpers and not leaders. Marginalised groups in the district include single parents, pregnant women, children and orphans. Rejoice and her mother Yevu both fall under this vulnerable category. Yevu tearfully explains to the World Vision team that she was married at the early age of 18, gave birth to four children and later separated from her husband. She now struggles to support her family and her two grand-children on her own, but manages to earn a living by engaging in occasional farming by growing groundnuts, yam and cassava or uprooting medicinal plants and herbs for sale. Their thatched home has not been repaired in years, and when it rains they have to beg their neighbours for shelter. As Yevu explains, her daughter’s pregnancy devastated her and her already fragile family. "When I heard that my child was pregnant, I was very annoyed. I went to see my sister and I wanted to go as far as to lodge a complaint and report the case to the police, but I was advised against it. I was so angry and I took it out on Rejoice. I later calmed down and decided it was best to support her and encourage her to return to school at a later date."

The district population is predominantly rural with 75.7% of the population living in rural localities, and the hardship of rural life forces many young people like Rejoice to migrate. The severity of poverty means many youth move out or look for greener pastures in education or employment, but many young girls fall prey to teenage pregnancy or abusive environments. In an effort to circumvent these problems, World Vision is partnering with the district assembly to address issues of teenage pregnancy in the region. As John Kwaku Amenyah, District Chief Executive for Agotime-Ziope District Assembly, explains education plays a key role in unlocking some of the most prevalent issues for young girls. "Teenage pregnancy is quite rampant in the district. Men take advantage of these families because of poverty, so we have to empower the parents to be self-sufficient and to take better care of their wards. We also need to emphasise the importance of education and educational facilities, especially for young girls so they are equipped with the right tools to succeed in their lives. We have a common fund to build schools but it is not enough and we need supplementary funding. We hope our partnership with World Vision will help us achieve our goals".

Rejoice understands that her best hope for a better future lies in getting an education. She tells the World Vision team that she still has dreams and aspirations to return to school and escape the stigma of teenage pregnancy. "I really want to go back to school and eventually become a nurse. I am inspired by nursing because my mother told me of people who have lost their lives to cholera and I would like to help my community with this issue. I am also warning my friends to avoid falling victim to teenage pregnancy", she says.

On a global level, World Vision is committed to ensuring that young girls are protected from vulnerable situations that arise within their communities. Much effort is vested in engaging stakeholders and launching large-scale campaigns to ensure that the most vulnerable groups are safe from harmful practices. Salome Yeboah is the World Vision AP Manager for Agortime-Ziope in Volta Region. She notes: "I have observed that the inhabitants are not able to cultivate on a large scale to look after their children. As a result, young girls are lured by men and they get them pregnant; this perpetuates poverty levels in the community. The issue is very prevalent in one community where ten girls are currently pregnant. As an NGO we need to implement strategies to mitigate these issues, by intensifying reading camps in vocational and educational skills. We also intend to implement campaigns to end child marriage and educate girls on how to protect themselves."

Over the next five years, World Vision will implement Sponsorship, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Education programmes, which will be assessed to determine their impact on the lives of the people in Segbale Village, Agortime-Ziope District. Where there is no impact, World Vision will restructure programmes, tailoring them to the needs of the community.