Reproductive Health of Young People and Ostrich Tale

Here is the tale of the Ostrich bird and that of the sexual and reproductive health of young people in Nigeria.

There is an intriguing story told of the Ostrich bird who is renowned for its rather infamous tactics of avoiding danger.

It is said that at the approach of danger, in an attempt to become less visible, the ostrich will lie low and press its long neck to the ground while exposing the large part of its body trunk which is still very visible even from afar due to its enormous size.

This story is typical of the decades of efforts to address the very alarming rate of maternal mortality in Nigeria without due recourse to one of the leading contributors of maternal deaths among young people which is injuries and deaths from unsafe abortion among adolescents and youths in Nigeria.

It has been argued that the Nigerian youth has become an endangered species due to the blatant lack of accurate sexual and reproductive health information occasioned by the myths and misconceptions that still surrounds the issue of sexuality education in Nigeria.

According to the 2013 National Demographic Health Survey, over 24% of adolescent girls in Nigeria have their first sexual intercourse by the age of 15 and by the age of 20 years, 7 out of 10 girls in Nigeria have had sexual intercourse.

Many of these teenagers who become pregnant in the process often hide their pregnancies mainly out of shame or fear of stigmatization and end up not receiving any support. These pregnant teens often resort to desperate measures and seek to abort their mostly unplanned pregnancies by patronizing the services of quacks.

Anecdotal evidence shows that one of the very big decision made by a teenager without seeking parental consent is the decision to have sex, moreso in a country like Nigeria where discussing sex with teenagers still seems like a taboo as we continue to live in denial of an open secret with the high rate of teenage pregnancy recorded in the country which suggests that a lot of teenagers in Nigeria are already engaged in sex.

Mostly at the root of unsafe abortion is the element of unintended pregnancy which could lead to unwanted pregnancy and among the numerous causes of unwanted pregnancy is the element of sexual violence.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines sexual violence as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting.

The term coercion as used in this definition covers a range of degrees of force. It involves physical force, psychological intimidation, blackmail or other threats such as threat of physical harm, dismissal from a job or denial of job opportunity. It may also occur when the person violated is unable to give consent, for instance, while drunk, drugged, asleep or mentally incapable of understanding the situation.

There has been an alarming increase in cases of sexual violence in recent times in Nigeria. The media is daily awash with such cases with even in facts and adolescent as victims. Sexual violence knows no boundaries, as its prevalence cut across all categories of persons particularly women – rich/poor; old/young; literate/illiterate; Christian/Muslim; and people from various ethnic backgrounds and ages including minors and elderly. Its perpetrators cut across class, status and religious orientation comprising pastors, imams, traditional rulers, teachers, police, military and ordinary citizens.

Sexual violence can have significant harmful and lasting physical, psychological and reproductive health consequences for victims, families and communities. A study on rape incidences in Kano conducted by Ipas between 2002 to 2004 showed that more than one-third (37%) of the survivors presented with sexually transmitted infections, while 21% presented with varying degrees of injuries in their genitals. Much of the sexual violence perpetrated against women/young girls, are by acquaintances i.e. people they know, love and trust – boyfriends, other relatives, friends, neighbors, school mates, colleagues and even husbands.

A study by Holmes et al (1996) had shown that more than 32,000 pregnancies are resulting from rape every year in Nigeria. The big question then is: what happens to these pregnancies in a country like Nigeria where the only legal ground to obtain safe abortion services is only to save the life of the woman?

With the growing concern that many women would normally not want to carry such unwanted pregnancies to term while some pregnant victims may even feel a pregnancy they were carrying has been ‘’contaminated’’ or ‘’defiled’’ as a result of the rape and would not want to continue carrying such pregnancies, many of these victims resort to alternate means particularly because of the position of the law and those who are not economically empowered resort to quacks and herbalists, thus making unsafe abortion a silent and persistent pandemic.

Having a law that clearly prohibits sexual violence and punishes offenders is only a first step; providing for a comprehensive medi-care for victims of such violence is vital. Consequently, it is imperative that government takes further step to protect the rights of victims of sexual violence by ensuring access to safe reproductive health choices for victims of sexual violence.

With a significant proportion of unsafe abortions in Nigeria being reported to be taking place among youths, it is therefore imperative to educate young people about their reproductive health and healthy sexual behavior as well as support the enactment of laws & policies that are favorable to young people.

The Nigerian Youth can make this happen! Lend your voice to the campaign for youth friendly reproductive health policies in Nigeria and educate other youths on their reproductive health!!

 (Edosa Oviawe is a youth mobilizer and gender advocate. He has been involved in mobilizing young people as advocates for law reform on gender based violence including sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls).


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