The thin line between Poverty and Teen Pregnancy in Africa – Lanre Olagunju

Some sexual and reproductive right advocates go about their campaigns against teenage pregnancy with the emotional sentiment that teenage pregnancy increases poverty in every society, in the deep sense of it, this is more inaccurate than valid. It might be difficult to absolutely disregard that school of thought completely, possibly because of some iota of sense and truth that it contains, I’d rather have us look at the issue from a broader perspective with a smart consciousness of the phenomenon of first thing first. That way, one is quick to realize that teen pregnancy or parenting is not as responsible for increase in poverty as much as poverty is responsible for teen pregnancy. I will tell a short story to buttress this much later.


Many parents would go any length to avoid sex education. Some while growing as teenagers actually discovered sex and their own sexuality haphazardly, so they really don’t have a model per say or education that they can draw from. Some simply don’t have the courage. Looking critically at all these reasons, they expose one form of lack or the other which directly or indirectly defines one form of poverty.


It might be easier to come up with reasons why parents aren’t forth coming in their duties as it concerns sex education, but what justifiable reason can we possibly give to advocates with wrong notions?


Fundamentally, Poverty leads to teen pregnancy. In one ways too many, having a large number of teen parent add up to the cycle of poverty and economic stress in the sense that the child grow up the same way like the parent and then the pattern continues.


 Few months ago, I was moved to tears with the story of a poor teenage girl whose family couldn’t cater for her basic needs and that of her elder sister. In fact at the point when she was narrating her story, she explained that her father due to his inability to provide for the family had left home completely. According to her, the mum was trying her best, but she realized that the sum total of the mum’s single effort can’t help her and her sister claim the university admission they were processing.


A neighbour who has always been a friend to the family promised to help, but at the point of giving them the money he made it clear that he’d have to sleep with the first lady whose admission deadline is knocking and that if the elder sister needs money as well, she should be aware of the prize. She obliged. She slept with the shameless man. Sadly, she got pregnant before she could complete her school registration. The saddest part of the story was that at 17, the sexual encounter was her first. So it wasn’t a case of being loose or being overly sexually active.


When we consider young women in extremely poor and remote villages where there is no hope of a better life or education, we might understand the cultural norm in such places that explains why young girls in abject poverty have more tendencies to get pregnant than their counterparts who are aiming at being educated and becoming influential. Some researchers are of the opinion that these poor little girls have made some cost- benefit analysis amongst other logical economic assessment of themselves and their future. And they must have envisaged and concluded that there’s no tangible economic success or impacts that they can possibly make, hence they opt for childbearing to make up for the void in their lives. Economist who examined teen sexual behaviours and its consequences in relation to socio-economic class also concluded that teens from low income areas with abject poverty are more likely to become teen parents.


In developed nations with financial crisis poverty plays a big role in teen pregnancy when teenagers feel that they can only get help or receive food stamps and welfare packages when they get pregnant and have children.


Going by the report that says by 2040, Africa would produce half of the world youth, If Africa must avert the economic hopelessness that might result from this, I think the emphasis shouldn’t be on mere changing pregnancy rate, rather effort should be placed on education and programs that would boost the self esteem and over all well being of teenagers. It’s also important to continue to encourage and make contraceptives readily available.


Lanre Olagunju is an hydrologist turned freelance journalist.  An alumnus of the American College of Journalism, Lanre advocates on several international platforms for the prosperity and absolute well-being of the African continent. He is @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter. 

Poverty leads to teen pregnancy in Africa