Gideon Kwame Sarkodie Osei | October 26, 2020
Abena Nhiyra was sexually exploited by a young man in her Ghanaian community who took advantage of her mother’s financial challenges—which were exacerbated because of COVID-19. The 17-year-old became pregnant during the period when school was closed. Her mother sells vegetables in the market, but the market was closed for two months to manage the spread of COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the rate of sexual and gender-based violence in Ghana and elsewhere, and also of other kinds of gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation, teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortions, and child marriages.
It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and 17-year-old Abena Nhiyra, who is pregnant, has just returned from school. She looks tired and cries as she tries to explain how she became pregnant when school was closed due to COVID-19.
Ms. Nhiyra is pregnant because she was sexually exploited by a young man in her community who took advantage of her mother’s financial challenges—which were exacerbated by COVID-19. Her mother sells vegetables in the market. But to manage the spread of COVID-19, the government closed the market for about two months.
Ms. Nhiyra explains: “There was nothing to cook that day. My mother told me to follow him to his house to get a sachet of rice. As soon as I entered his house, he started kissing me and told me that if I have sex with him, he would take care of our family. I said no, but he forced me and warned me not to let anyone know.”
Ms. Nhiyra lives with her mother and three siblings in Kintampo, in the Bono East region of Ghana. She is in the third year of junior high school and is preparing to write her basic education certificate examination this year. Even though she’s pregnant, she’s attending school so she can sit for her final examinations.
Ghana recorded its first case of COVID-19 in March. While some have died from the disease, many others have been made more vulnerable, particularly women and girls. Gender-based violence has increased during COVID-19, driven by a number of factors, including the stress of lockdowns and the lack of employment and income.
Mansah Dokua is a single mother with one child. She used to be a teacher at a private school, but says it’s so difficult to pay rent and buy food that she nearly engaged in promiscuity in order to survive.
Ms. Dokua explains: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I lost my job. It is difficult to survive. I am a woman and because of stress, I was about to start moving from one man to another, but upon second thought, I realized that it was not appropriate.”
She adds: “I decided to ask the father of my child for support. But he was not ready to support and take his responsibility. Our conversation became confrontational and I was assaulted by him and the case is pending at the police station.”
According to Ms. Dokua, she wouldn’t have asked the man for help, but did so because of the hardships brought by COVID-19.
Michael Tagoe is the Youth Programme Officer at the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana. He says that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the rate of sexual and gender-based violence, and also of other kinds of gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation, teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortions, and child marriages.
Mr. Tagoe says, “Gender-based violence has arisen because of the closure of schools and the lockdown situation due to COVID-19.”
Although girls confront numerous and worrying challenges in trying to continue their education after pregnancy and childbirth, Ms. Nhiyra is determined to finish school. She explains: “I have vowed to continue my education after delivering my child. This is irrespective of the challenges and the stigma I may face as a young mother. I will do this so that I can achieve my goals in the future.”
This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.