At Lompolo Koné Provincial Secondary School in Banfora, in the Cascades region of southwest Burkina Faso, the community is awakening to the challenges of teen pregnancies. Parents and educators are on the alert to this growing phenomenon.
Adjara Yao was one of these new mothers. She is a student in the sixth grade at the Lompolo Koné Provincial Secondary School in Banfora. She is 16 years old and the mother of a baby. She earned a primary school certificate, then passed her sixth grade entrance exam just four months after her mother passed away. She says, “I was happy to be in secondary school and all was going well with learning a new language—English.”
Then, she met the father of her child on the way to school—a student in the tenth grade. After just one sexual encounter, Adjara’s life was changed forever. She failed school and her relationship with her father deteriorated.
Two months after her period stopped, Adjara went to the health centre, where her suspicions were confirmed. She immediately informed her boyfriend. The news disheartens the progenitor, as the young mother recounts: “He categorically refused to acknowledge his responsibility, telling me to go and find the father of my child somewhere else and pretending he used a condom. He later acknowledged the child, after threats from my dad, who forced me to go and live with him.”
In this area, when young girls get pregnant, they face a multitude of consequences: not going to school, exclusion from family and social events, blame and criticism, and sometimes even suicide. They are mocked and clandestine abortions are risky. Disputed paternity and abandoned children add to the complications.
Some civil society organizations in Burkina Faso are working to reduce the rate of early pregnancies. Réseau Africain Jeunesse Santé et Développement is a network that promotes youth health and development. It has introduced youth to key reproductive and sexual health concepts, and its 30 clubs hold educational talks in some schools.
With peer educators, young people discuss topics like HIV and AIDS, early pregnancies, smoking and alcoholism, managing menstruation, and civic engagement..
The support of parents and educators is important for success, which is why the organization developed the concept of “champions.” Madam Haoua Zabré is the regional coordinator of the organization and describes the important qualities of a champion: “The champion is characterized by his or her availability, his or her commitment to listen, direct, alert, and support teenagers and young people. He or she is someone they can easily confide in, to get an answer to the questions they ask themselves about their sexuality and to any other problem linked to their age. He or she is a model parent.” Champions also receive training to strengthen their skills.
Mariam Bamba is a perfect example of a champion. She is the censor of the Lompolo Koné Provincial Secondary School in Banfora. She feels that the solution to the high rate of teen pregnancy does not only rely on raising awareness among children. She explains her strategy: “Nowadays, children need us to explain to them the how and why of things and not only limit it to prohibitions. Hence, in addition to the organized awareness campaigns, we also have to engage the parents in the sexual education of their children.”
Thus, this Burkinabé health organization is counting on the support of parents. According to Mrs. Bamba, talking about sexuality with children must not be taboo because young lives and future depend on it.
Thanks to her ability to keep a secret and an open mind, she is close to the youth. She says: “I do not only ask them to not have sexual intercourse, but also to take protective measures in case they cannot abstain themselves in order to avoid not only pregnancies but also diseases or infections.”
These champions and school clubs are contributing to a dialogue that hopes to address the absence of sexual education in the school curriculum, the scarcity of awareness sessions in some schools, and the non-engagement of parents on these issues. Hopefully, conversations will lead to change for the young teens, who may no longer face such a multitude of consequences for getting pregnant.
This article was produced with the support of the Government of Canada through the project “Promoting health, sexual and reproductive rights, and nutrition among adolescents in Burkina Faso (ADOSANTE).” The ADOSANTE project is led by a consortium including Helen Keller International, Marie Stopes-Burkina Faso (MS/BF), Farm Radio International, the Centre d’information de Conseils et de Documentation sur le Sida et la Tuberculeuse (CICDoc), and the Réseau Afrique Jeunesse Santé et Développement (RAJS).