How Teenage Pregnancy Affects Teenagers
by Matelita Ragogo
Mohini was comfortable – a 17-year-old science student in a Pacific island nation living in a suburban of the capital of Fiji, Suva, where despite the influx of Western society, majority of children still lived under strict traditional rules.
Her world crashed when she discovered she was pregnant. “I had to stop going to school and that hurt because I really enjoyed school,’’ says Mohini, a slight 17-year-old who gave birth to twins last year.
But giving up school was the least she had to deal with in a community divided on racial lines; where every parents’ pride was the completion of their child’s tertiary level education and in Mohini’s case, a marriage arranged by her parents to, ideally, an educated, handsome young man from a wealthy family.
Mohini had to deal with two entirely different worlds daily. Her family was of the lower middle class bracket and being the eldest was additional pressure to succeed. Daily chores of helping her mother cook lunches for her extended family from 4am to ensure no one was late for school or work.
Mohini was popular amongst her friends – she took pains to look older than she actually was; pencil-thin eyebrows enhanced her sharp Indian features and attending a prominent high school was a bonus.
Biology was her favourite subject and was incidentally the sole source of reproductive health information for her. Family Life classes were always held separately as per gender and the common cultural barriers in this country’s melting pot of sex being a taboo subject did not help; most teachers took this practice into the classrooms subsequently limiting sessions to physical changes to the body rather than how these developments could mean pregnancies for adolescent girls.
Mohini began seeing a 21-year-old man she met while waiting for her bus home from the city. She believes she conceived in a public toilet but her first sexual experience was in a dusty hotel room used mostly by prostitutes. “I knew what it took to get pregnant but it was still a shock when the doctor told my mother and I that I was expecting a child.”
Mohini fell in love with the images on the ultra scan. “I decided right there and then that I would have and keep my babies.” But her father’s decision couldn’t have been further from her intentions.
“The babies’ farther denied any connections to me and of being responsible but he told my father that as a friend, he was willing to pay for the abortions. My father took me to a private doctor who put a pile of files in front of me and asked me to look through them.”
A horrified Mohini flipped through files of the doctors’ previous abortions – complete with pictures. The cold metal on her thighs about one hour later jerked Mohini to a tirade that forced the doctor and his nurses to release her; she ran to a local shelter for teenage pregnant mothers where she lived until she gave birth to her twins. But her nightmare had just begun.
Her family, friends and the section of town she lived in, shunned her. The school refused to let her re-enroll to allow her to complete her final exams citing an impeccable reputation was at stake.
“The school stopped me from attending classes and said I could not return because that would tarnish their reputation; no good school had mothers in their classrooms. This is when my father got abusive because as far as he was concerned, we’d give the babies to relatives and I would complete my schooling.
“Everyday I heard them say how I had shamed the family name. Everyday I heard my parents tell me I was good for nothing now, no good Indian boy would even want to look at me. The extended family said worse things and in a way I felt sorry for my parents; my aunty said my mother was not a good mother to allow such a thing to happen.
“I became suicidal and wanted to just end everything.” She returned to the shelter; she recognised her suicidal thoughts and decided to make the plunge and leave home before the hateful vibes convinced her of an early end.
Statistics here are only gathered at hospitals or government health centres; private practitioners cite confidentiality, refusing to submit their records. Legal loopholes also allow private practitioners to terminate pregnancies unabated; hospitals on the other hand follow strict guidelines for performing terminations. This is the root of fears here that teenage pregnancy rates are much higher than what statistics imply.
Mohini’s experience is a reflection of majority of teenage pregnant mothers here. The only difference is for the more lucky ones, eventual acceptance makes their situations get better. For others, daily demands of a capitalistic world have forced them on the street.
Sharon was 15 when her parents’ marriage collapsed. Her father is overseas and her mother remarried. She lives with an uncle; her chores include housesitting while the family attends church services every Sunday.
It was on one of these Sunday mornings that her 16-year-old neighbour impregnated her. “I didn’t know this was how you got pregnant. He said he wanted to talk to me. I went to see him, he did that thing and now I can’t complete school,” Sharon explains.
“After my parents’ marriage broke up and having to live with relatives, I decided I wanted to be successful so I never have to depend on others. My uncle is an engineer and he’s got a lot of money. There has been a lot of stories in the newspapers about women going into that field so it was encouraging for me – I never wanted to depend on anyone else again.
Sharon lives in a predominantly Fijian suburban. She did not expect her pregnancy to be such a big deal because “other girls my age had been pregnant before. What she did find out was they all lived in their own nightmares within the four walls of their homes; appearances ensured derogatory remarks and complaints by immediate family members remained private.
“They say I am disgusting. They never say anything about the boy. I see him playing rugby with his friends every afternoon. I got a beating from my uncle but all the boy’s family had to do was a traditional ceremony saying the boy was sorry and now he continues with his school work.
“I hate him and now I may have to live with my uncle for the rest of my life. I don’t think anyone would want to marry me now because I already have a baby. My friends call me names everyday so in a way, I am glad I don’t go to school anymore.”
She is terrified with being interviewed. She views the world from a totally different perspective now after surviving a caesarean, her pelvic bones and birth canal were too small. But she had gone through attempts to birth naturally before bleeding forced doctors to decide for caesarean.
She is quite spoken and timid but she is quite a “big girl” for her age. Sharon’s situation represents the majority of mothers here who because of the shame, stigmatisation and discriminatory attitudes from their families, friends and communities, fear admitting their conditions until it is too late.
The Ministry for Health records just over 2000 babies born out of teenage mothers. In 2001, there were 2001 babies born to girls between 15 and 19 years; 11 were born to girls between 10 to 14 years.
Adolescents comprise 39percent of Fiji’s 900,000 people. The ethnic majority groups comprise Fijian constituting about 50percent and Indians constitute some 40percent. In the main referral hospital based in Suva, the capital, deliveries at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital (CWMH) totaled 6023 in 2002 and in 2003 totaled 6547. Of these, teenage pregnancies constituted 3.4percent and 3.09percent respectively.
“But this is the tip of the iceberg,’’ says Dr Esala Nainoca who heads the Maternity Unit at Suva’s Colonial War Memorial Hospital. Fertility rate for 15 to 25 year olds have increased in the last five years: fertility/1000-75.19 percent; birth rate/1000-19.47 percent. Experts here say maturity age is also beginning to get lower subsequently increasing the rate of sexual activity in the younger age group. The youngest impregnated here is a Fijian 12-year-old.
Ana was 14 when she had her first child. She now lives at the Home of Hope, a shelter for teenage and single mothers. She returned to her classroom after a difficult birth in Suva while housemother Alisi Laukoko looks after her daughter and another 12 children.
Ana has had to leave her family home and now attempts to rebuild her life at the Home, a project recently established here by Christian missionary couple, Mark and Lynnie Roche.
“Education stops so aside from the shame issue, aside from the rejection, you pretty much destine these girls and their kids a life of poverty – it’s pretty much given,’’ Lynnie says.
Girls who have gone through the Home are usually devoid of any basic survival skills “We believe that the initial root of all of these is the breakdown of the family and from there grows to STIs, teenage pregnancies and from there it just grows. Then you’ve got cycles of poverty.
“The cycle doesn’t just continue, it gets deeper and bigger; the cycle starts swerving way out of control. The kids don’t have an education; no jobs and they are promiscuous. It just really grows out of proportion. And the younger this girl is, who is dealing with this is, the more inept she is to deal with everything that is coming out there.”