|Image courtesy of flickr.com|
The world is exciting and scary enough for 16 year old Daisy, a teenager like many others. She’s a bag of emotions and a large appetite, both for food and for life. Filled with youthful vigour, Daisy will tackle every challenge with the same attitude. She dreams of being an accountant someday. And all that happens while she tries to find her place in this world. It’s like crossing the hallowed threshold between two worlds. She is no longer a child, and doesn’t want to be treated as such. She is not yet an adult, but she want to be respected and taken seriously. One thing that remains true is that she is not as misunderstood as she thinks. The older people that she looks up to were once teenagers, like her. She may not know it at the time, but they do understand what she’s going through. And at that time, she needs someone she can relate with, so she mostly relies on her peers. Among her relatives, she confides in her auntie, who’s not as authoritative as her mother and is much easier to talk to.
It is a tricky time for Daisy because adolescents (young people between the ages of 10-19 years) are often thought of as a healthy group. And yet, many adolescents do die prematurely due to suicide, pregnancy related complications and other illnesses that are either preventable or treatable. In addition, many serious diseases in adulthood have their roots in adolescence. For example, tobacco use, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, poor eating and exercise habits, lead to illness or premature death later in life.
Daisy, through her friendly auntie, gets to know many of these issues and she talks about these things with her friends. Her auntie advises her to delay sex and stay in school for as long as possible. In the event that Daisy becomes sexually active, her auntie strongly recommends that she uses contraceptives, the easiest of which is to use condoms. She might be labeled as uncool by her peers as they indulge in wanton sex, alcohol and drug binges. However, resolve is not easily found in solitude when you’re young. No one wants to be left out. No one wants to be the outcast. The days of ridicule from peers are long and stressful. The mockery and calls of cowardice are too much for Daisy to bear. So, despite her knowledge, she decides to indulge without proper safety measures, in sex and other related activities. When she later discovers that she’s pregnant, she tries to hide the fact from everyone, even her beloved auntie. But the signs are too evident for her auntie to miss.
Teenage pregnancies are mostly unwanted and occur in girls below 19 years of age. Due to the burning desire of youth and lacking knowledge on sex education and family planning, it is very common. It can cost the girls (and the boys) in terms of school, respect of the community, and financially, seeing as neither parent is financially capable of raising a child, normally. This is exactly the situation Daisy finds herself in. James, the 17 year old adolescent responsible for the pregnancy, suggests that she aborts, because he’s not ready to take care of a baby, let alone face his parents with such news. Mostly, he’s motivated by fear more than a general lack of respect for human life. He really doesn’t know any better. They both worry about dropping out of school and the death of their dreams. He is also afraid that he might be imprisoned for having sex with an underage girl. She is worried that she might get complications and disabilities resulting from difficult deliveries or experience obstructed labour that may damage her bladder. As a teenager, her body is not yet fully developed enough for childbirth, so these complications might happen to her. She’s also wary of the wrath she’ll face from her parents when they find out. Daisy contemplates suicide, running away from home, and even abortion. She’s ashamed of what she has done and the friends who once encouraged her to indulge are now mocking her for her apparent stupidity. To Daisy, the world has become a harsh place and her dreams have been shattered. If only she could find the support she so desperately needs from the people around her, she wouldn’t resort to such drastic measures.
Weighed down by immense sadness, Daisy goes to her auntie and bares all her pain and anguish to her, as if to tell herself that telling someone at least should ease the burden. Her auntie is surprisingly supportive to Daisy, and comforts her, saying it is not the end. She accompanies Daisy as they break the news to her parents. Much as the parents are furious and say that Daisy has destroyed her own future, they still care about the health of their child. They encourage her to visit the nearest health facility for antenatal care at least 4 times during the pregnancy, while they prepare to take care of her baby.
Daisy realizes that if she had heard about family planning, she would have known better. But even as she gets to know about it after her pregnancy, she can better plan for her future. Family planning involves having (the number of) children when you want them. This avoids unplanned pregnancies and having children you are not ready to take care of. Children are our legacy, the fruit of the womb, and deserve a good chance at life. With appropriate planning, parents can be able to offer the children whatever they need to live a healthy life filled with promise and opportunity. There are different methods of family planning available for both young men/boys and women/girls. These include: condoms (both male and female), pills for women, injectables and implants for women. Daisy learns that she can apply family planning later in her life when she has settled down. For now, she needs to concentrate on making sure that she gives birth to a healthy baby. She makes sure she eats right and even goes for HIV testing. Fortunately, she’s negative so if she does everything her parents and auntie tell her, she will give birth to a healthy baby.
Eventually, Daisy safely gives birth to a baby girl. Her relatives are happy for her and are more than willing to pitch in and help Daisy care for the baby. However, her auntie reminds her that with or without help from the baby’s father, she is responsible for the livelihood of her child. While her auntie helps Daisy try and get support from him, Daisy should find a way to provide for the child. That’s when Daisy learns about income generating activities and entrepreneurship skills training. Learning how to sustain herself despite the odds boost her level of confidence and sense of purpose. Daisy finds work in a salon, where she starts to learn the essentials of running a business, in conjunction with attending entrepreneurship and financial literacy classes. She believes that eventually, she will be able to start her own business and be able to take care of her child properly. Life may have taken her along a much different path than she had imagined, but she’s confident that she’ll make it work somehow.
Unfortunately, some girls do not get the help, advice, or support that Daisy got. There are several abortions and birth related deaths all over the country. But all these problems start somewhere. Whether it is forced or consensual, teenage pregnancy must be avoided at all costs because there’s also health implications for the young mother. There’s no substitute for either school or health, and thus they must be preserved.