The First Lady and President of African First Ladies Peace Mission, (AFLPM), Dame (Dr.) Patience Jonathan, has canvassed for the reduction of teenage pregnancies across Africa in the just concluded National Strategy for the reduction of teenage pregnancies in Sierra Leone entitled, ‘LET GIRLS BE GIRLS, NOT MOTHERS,’ which took place on May 13 – 15, 2013.
Mrs. Patience Jonathan gave a keynote address on the ‘Roles of Traditional and Religious Leaders in the prevention of teenage pregnancies.” Noting that the role of traditional and religious leaders in supporting communities to prevent teenage pregnancy cannot be over-emphasized, she called for a synergy and partnership between the traditional institutions, religious leaders and opinion leaders on the essence of working together with civil society organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
The First Lady said sustainable development can only be achieved in the fight against teenage pregnancies if our traditional leaders will return to the dignity and high moral values that had held our traditional communities together. Echoing the core roles of these leaders in uniting and developing the society, she encouraged them to take interest in the upbringing of teenage boys as well, and especially the girls in their domains, preparing both genders adequately for the responsibilities of adulthood.
She campaigned on the need for town hall meetings for the continuous community sensitization programmes about the dangers of teenage pregnancies, saying that educating the teenagers will prevent them from being misled. She appealed to both religious and traditional leaders to continually work with parents and the civil society organizations as well as other relevant groups to create the necessary awareness in preventing this malaise that is destroying the future of female teenagers.
Sensing the roles of moral and religious education, she appealed to religious leaders to continue in the task of nation building by encouraging the youths and families to rediscover the values of faith institutions and sacred teachings they uphold. Believing on the power of belief system, she urged leaders of faith and denominations to take on the issue of teenage pregnancy prevention in the context of their religious beliefs, using the medium of programmes that are increasingly relevant to teenagers and the youths. Most religions are not prudish in the condemnation of fornication. Religious leaders, she advised, should imbibe sex education in children even before they become teenagers as it is upheld in their faith.
A press release by Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele ,Media Adviser to the First Lady said she emphasized the dangers associated with teenage pregnancies: severe anaemia, acute malaria, pregnancy induced hypertension, obstructed labour and unwed status, and enjoined all concerned in the society to help teenager avoid these dangers. The unmarried teenagers, out of shame or fear of stigmatization, Mrs. Jonathan said, may hide their pregnancies and therefore do not receive any support or antennal care, or desperately involve themselves in abortions at the hands of quack doctors.
Research has shown that young mothers and their babies are at greater risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, tragically aggravated by ignorance and poverty, as most of these teenagers fall victims being enticed with gifts, money, sweet words and promise of marriage. Mrs. Jonathan therefore reiterated that parents, especially mothers, must take renewed interest in the protection of their girls, saying mothers should deepen the girl’s knowledge of sex education, which must begin from infancy in the homes, starting with the knowledge of their body parts, such as vulva and penis. These children must be told that these parts are their private parts and no one has right to touch them. As the children grow, the sex education, she said, should be appropriately increased according to their ages and power of understanding. And if we fail to teach our children, their peers and wicked adults will easily deceive them.
So conversation on sex should not be a taboo between mothers and their children, and the First Lady also appealed to the men folk to let their conscious and good judgments always guide their behaviours with young girls and the womenfolk for the general moral beauty of the community.
Considering the importance of education to any developing nation, she said that our educational institutions are fundamental in these aspects of sex education, and must play a key role by enacting policies that focus on complete growth of the child, taking into account their physical, spiritual, and academic development while emphasizing discipline and high moral values.
The First Lady said the seminar will also serve as a spring-board and a pilot platform for other African countries where similar interventions are ultimately required. Tracing back the history of Sierra Leone and Nigeria, she relished the importance of the seminar as she looked forward to more areas of fruitful partnership and collaboration in the nearest future.
She was hosted by the First lady of Sierra Leone and the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.