Breaking taboos

Breaking taboos

BUTHA-BOTHE – CONTRACEPTIVES might seem like taboo in a conservative country such as Lesotho. But for many young girls, they may be a lifesaver.
At just 18, ’Makeisara Motake is a wife and mother, having dropped out of school after falling pregnant at 17.
The story could have been different had she used contraceptives, she said.

‘‘I did have an idea of family planning methods such as injections or oral pills. But I could not take any because we were encouraged not to do that at school,” she says.
Motake says she was sexually active as a young school girl at Malefane High School in Butha-Buthe.

At school, teachers focused on abstinence, telling the pupils that sex was for adults. Parents at home preached the same message because the idea of children going to clinics for provisions of contraceptives is viewed as taboo. As a result, safe sex is hardly discussed both at school and at home despite the reality of teen sex.

According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 5 percent of women aged 15-19 years were pregnant with their first child.
The adolescent pregnancy rate is higher in rural communities than in urban areas, according to the WHO.
According to African Population Studies, a peer-reviewed academic journal covering original research on African populations, development, and related fields, Lesotho health workers ask repulsive questions to teens who try to get contraceptives at clinics.

It says providers “sometimes make it difficult for them to use contraception, and in addition, parental attitudes are particularly negative”.
At times, health workers ask them to bring their husbands before they can get contraceptives.
However, some health professionals said they were taking steps to assist young girls prevent unplanned pregnancies.

Phethisa Sekhesa, a doctor at Butha-Buthe Hospital, said the institution serves 334 pregnant women at a score, many of whom are teenagers.
He however said he did not have statistics of how many pregnant teenagers go to their clinics.

He said services rendered by the hospital include adolescent and young adult’s health amenities, family planning and contraceptives provision and pre-natal counseling.
Five clinic outreach services specifically target adolescent and young people at schools, churches and communities, said Sekhesa
He says there are 286 adolescent and young people involved in counseling their peers in both teenage pregnancy and early marriage.

‘‘This has been quite a challenge as a lot of teenagers are pregnant and we are doing all we could to prevent the number from growing bigger,’’ he says.
The other problem that they encounter is lack of professional staff.

“We have one nurse providing services at adolescent corner and this makes it difficult to provide consistent, comprehensive integrated services because if the nurse has to go to the community, there is no other person to continue offering services there,’’ he says.
Dr Sekhesa is worried that schools still expel pregnant girls.

Lesotho’s “contraceptives prevalence” is up to 67 percent of women aged between 15 and 49 years said Deputy Minister of Health Ministry, ’Manthabiseng Phohleli.
She attributed the spike in the figures to assistance from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Phohleli was speaking during the UNFPA Regional Director Dr Julitta Onabanjo’s visit to clinics in the northern part of the country last week.
Speaking during the tour, Dr Onabanjo says government and other stakeholders should pay particularly attention to the needs of young people and involve them in the planning and implementation of programmes.

‘‘I indeed do not believe that school children want to fall pregnant,” Onabanjo says.
“The majority of the pregnancies are unplanned and therefore it is on us to do a number of things to prevent them from becoming pregnant,’’ she says.
The government must guarantee that girls “have the information, empowerment to make those choices and to be protected because a lot of unintended pregnancies at schools are a result of gender based violence due to economic hardships’’, says Onabanjo.

Some people, such as young mother Motake, think it is time Lesotho breaks away from the mentality that provision of contraceptives to young people is taboo and face the reality that teens are going to have sex anyway.

Motake said she does not regret the sex. Her only problem was getting pregnant early in life.
“Had I known that the chances of getting pregnant were this high in the first place, I would have abstained and now I would be stress free,” she says. “I would have attended school in peace.”
“I am going to start taking in family planning pills. This is to avoid having another unplanned child,” Motake says.

She encouraged girls to abstain from sex “but if you feel you cannot abstain, please use contraceptives so that you do not have an unplanned baby”.

‘Mapule Motsopa

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