Burkina Faso: Religious and cultural leaders invest in reducing teen pregnancies

| February 2, 2020

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In Burkina Faso, the high rate of teen pregnancy is worrying parents, students, and community leaders. In Sapouy, religious leaders from many faiths have organized to address the issue. Emmanuel Bakala, a Catholic leader, meets with teens every Sunday to answer their questions and share messages about responsible sexuality. Other leaders speak in schools and churches to reach parents and youth with messages about sexual health and how to support pregnant girls. With school clubs, posters, and more communication on sexual health, the hope is that there will be fewer incidents of teen pregnancy.

It’s 5 p.m. at the Catholic church in the parish of Sapouy, 100 kilometres from Ouagadougou. The sun is setting over the city and a peaceful calm reigns in this place of worship. Sitting on a bench in the shade of a mango tree is Emmanuel Bakala, a 52-year-old youth pastor. Mr. Bakala is responsible for answering questions about relationships and sexual and reproductive health. He quickly gives one last piece of advice about teen pregnancy to a group of young women who have come to hear his counsel.

He explains, “It is like this every Sunday. After the meeting, many girls and boys and couples come to me with their questions on sexual health.”

In the province of Ziro, in the Centre East region of Burkina Faso, teen pregnancy is growing at a worrying rate. More than 100 young girls become pregnant each school year and their studies are disrupted. Traditionally, when a girl gets pregnant out of wedlock, she is chased away from her family and often refused shelter in religious foster families, including those of family. This is why religious and cultural leaders are organizing to give advice on sexual health.

Mr. Bakala is also the provincial president of Union des Religieux et Coutumiers du Burkina, a group that brings together leaders from many religious customs to fight against problems that challenge society. The provincial chapter is working in educational establishments and places of worship to educate students and parents, with the aim of reducing teen pregnancy.

Mr. Bakala says: “In educational establishments, we preach abstinence and give students the advice needed to help them get to know each other better. Also, we advise those who cannot abstain to go to health centres to get contraceptives. In religious places, we challenge parents about their responsibilities in their children’s sexuality.”

Together, the religious leaders aim to prepare youth by providing education on responsible sexuality.

Enoch Nébié is a pastor at the Pentecostal evangelical assemblies. Known for his generosity with pregnant teens, pastor Nébié has built three small houses in his courtyard to welcome them. Each school year, he receives three to five girls who are pregnant.

He explains, “As a spiritual educator, I have a duty to help my neighbour.” He adds that, in the real world, children experience sexuality early and so it is important to act quickly to increase awareness to prevent teen pregnancy. This is why he devotes an hour every Sunday to sexual health awareness for young people.

Salif Nama of the Muslim community of Dalo says that, thanks to the sensitization activities of the Union des Religieux et Coutumiers de Burkina, the incidence of teen pregnancy has decreased in the area. Some parents accept pregnant girls back into their families. But when the boy denies paternity or the girl doesn’t know who got her pregnant, they take the problem to social welfare and family services for further action.

The intervention of religious leaders to prevent teen pregnancy has resulted in concrete changes in both schools and the community. Students have organized clubs to discuss the issue. Also, signs have been placed in establishments to raise awareness of the issue. Youth are receiving advice from many people in many different ways, with the shared goal of reducing teen pregnancies.

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).