Teenage pregnancy is defined as an unintended pregnancy during adolescence. A female teenager can be pregnant as early as age 12 or 13, although it is usually 14 or older.
In Ghana, females represent 51.2 per cent of the entire population of almost 25 million whereas adolescents represent 22.4 per cent of the total population.
The rates of teenage pregnancy in Ghana are high; of all births registered in the country in 2014, 30 per cent were by adolescents, and 14 per cent of adolescents aged between 15 and 19 years had begun childbearing.
The growing numbers of pregnant adolescents shows that addressing sexual and reproductive health issues is increasingly an issue in Ghana.
There are many factors that contribute to early pregnancy among adolescents that has serious consequences for individuals, family, society and national development.
Some of these factors are the high levels of poverty throughout communities, early marriage, gender discrimination based on historic unequal gender roles, the lack of sexual and reproductive health education, lack of access to contraceptive use and discrimination against reproductive rights for young women, among others.
Understanding both the individual and societal causes and effects of teenage pregnancy is important to effectively reducing the high rates in Ghana.
Regional assessment of teenage pregnancy in Ghana shows that the Upper East, Volta, Brong Ahafo, Central and Eastern regions have the highest regional rates of 14 per cent and above between of 2012 and 2014.
Of these regions the Upper East Region has the highest national prevalence rate of teenage pregnancy – 15 per cent. The Northern Region has the lowest prevalence rate of 4.4 per cent and is followed by Greater Accra with 6.6 per cent.
Further analysis of the data between 2012 and 2014 indicates that Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo regions had an increasing trend of teenage pregnancy rates over the last three years. It is significant to note also that no region has shown an annual decreasing trend in the prevalence of teenage pregnancy.
Regionally, Greater Accra has one of the lowest prevalence rate of teenage pregnancy and the top three districts that have the highest prevalence rate are Accra Metro, Kumasi Metro and Techiman municipality. The top districts that recorded the highest prevalence rates of teenage pregnancy are all in urban centres. In all regions in Ghana, females experience their first sexual encounter earlier than their male counterparts.
Research shows that there is a direct link between levels of education and the age of the first sexual intercourse experience. The higher the educational level of the adolescent, the less likely they are to engage in sexual intercourse at an early age.
There had also been significant rise in the percentage of young adolescents who had a child or were pregnant between the years of 2008 and 2014. These percentages describe the escalation of teenage pregnancy percentages with the increase in age.
To address the high rates of teenage pregnancy in Ghana, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection convened a nationwide stakeholders meeting on December 7, 2015, to assess the current level, to conduct a situation analysis and to strategise for sustained national sensitisation. In addition, the ministry complied a Mapping Report on Teenage Pregnancy in Ghana, focusing on the key strategies in addressing it.
Overview of teenage pregnancy
An overview of teenage pregnancy in Ghana including its causes and effects highlighted the importance of understanding the context surrounding teenage pregnancy and the implications and concerns arising in Ghana. Linkages to health, educational levels, wealth categories and the inter-generational transfer of poverty, were made throughout the presentation.
Moving forward, governmental attention must be focused on information and services to support young women through comprehensive sexuality education and re-integration strategies for young mothers.
The Ghana Health Service has focused on education as its main strategy in addressing sexual and reproductive issues in Ghana and with services predominately focused on the current needs of young unmarried women.
Mapping of programmes
A mapping of teenage pregnancy intervention programmes in Ghana was presented detailing prevention strategies by various organisations. Best practices from various countries such as programming in Nepal, India, the South African Education Policy, were focused on to effectively reduce high teenage pregnancy rates in Ghana. Switzerland, Sweden and The Netherlands were also examined as European countries that focus their programming on strong prevention programmes and family planning services.
The writer is an officer at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection.
The conference ended with all participants informed and united in reducing the high rates of teenage pregnancy in Ghana and reinforcing a commitment to playing a collaborative role with all relevant stakeholders.
The main gaps identified were the lack of sustained coordinated efforts of intervention programming to tackle teenage pregnancy and secondly, the inadequate collaboration between the government, non-governmental organisations and development partners in addressing effective evidence-based programmes and studies.
Measures proposed by the stakeholders conference to tackle the issue of teenage pregnancy in Ghana, include, the conduct of an in-depth assessment of teenage pregnancy in Ghana, development of a 10-year strategic plan to reduce the high rates of teenage pregnancy in Ghana, coordination of activities between Education, Health and Gender sectors, expanding prevention and empowerment programmes for adolescents with a focus on protecting human rights of youth and developing a comprehensive reproductive health education strategy, including curriculum development.
The rest are, addressing socio-cultural issues related to teenage pregnancy, focusing on developing re-integration services for young mothers in education and social sectors, working to engage young boys in adolescent sexual health programmes and services, strengthen NGO and government collaboration in addressing teenage pregnancy and increasing research efforts focused on key regions and districts.
Developing a comprehensive and coordinated approach to reduce the high rates of teenage pregnancy in Ghana is a priority of the government, NGOs and civil society. Innovative and progressive initiatives would be important to effectively increase the services addressing sexual and reproductive health issues. Addressing teenage pregnancy will allow the country to have the maximum potential of its human resource for national growth and overall sustainable development.
*The writer is an officer at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection.
By Juliana Coughlin