(CITIFM) In the cluttered streets of Gbese, a small town in Ghana?s capital, many young teenage mothers walk around with unkempt hair and dirty clothes, chattering the day away. A number of these girls have their babies strapped behind them, carrying them with a free spirit, not knowing what it takes to care for these children. Some of the mothers are as young as 14.
Naa Ayeley, a heavily pregnant 18 year old, already has a two year old son. She told The Weekend Globe that teenagers becoming mothers is the norm, rather than the exception, in Gbese.
Recently, the Ghana Coalition of NGOs on Health (GCNH) estimated that about 75,000 teenagers between the ages of 17 to 19 become pregnant in Ghana annually. The group went on to say that 14,000 girls became pregnant in the Central region alone. The danger is that this age is dropping, even to the age of 12.
The Weekend Globe decided to visit Gbese, an area where teenage pregnancy is particularly prevalent, to understand the various factors behind the trend, speak to the girls and mothers at the centre of the problem, and find out what community leaders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are doing about it.
Gbese is one of the several communities with a rising number of teenage pregnancies. The issue also affects James Town, Chorkor, Teshie Nungua and several other communities along the coast. A fourth class residential area in the Ga community in Accra, Gbese is infamous for teenage pregnancy and child delinquency. It is close to the Gulf of Guinea and well-known for fishing, just like other fishing communities along the coast. The indigenes are generally poor and well below the middle income level.
This has been a problem not just for government, but for non-governmental organisations who step in to correct a deteriorating lifestyle in Gbese.
The problem persists because many of the girls in these communities do not attend school ? at all ? or drop out at a very young age. Ayeley, for instance, dropped out of school several years ago and failed to go back, despite pleas from her parents.
?I dropped out of school because I wanted to,? she told The Weekend Globe. ?My parents (tried to) force me to go back, but I did not do so.?
Sitting home and doing nothing, Naa Ayeley saw no option other than to become pregnant ? like many other girls her age in the community. ?I only wanted to taste how it feels like (sex),? she said. ?And I ended up getting pregnant.?
Unlike Ayeley, whose parents wanted her to go back to school, the majority of the girls who become pregnant in communities such as Gbese do so because their parents, especially the fathers, do not care about their kids? upbringing.
The caretaker at the Gbese Palace, Nii Aryee, attested to this fact when The Weekend Globe spoke to him. He said many of the men in the community, who are mostly fishermen, are only interested in having women giving birth.
?So many fathers here are irresponsible because they do not work,? he said.
It is no longer strange that, at age 35 and sometimes younger, many of the women in Gbese are grandparents like Gifty Torto. She is a 35 year old woman in Gbese who has five children aged between 14 and 18 and a one-and-half year old grandchild. Her estranged husband is far away in
Cape Coast, in the Central Region, and does not care whether his five children survive.
Gifty looks younger than her age, and too strong and energetic for a grandma. ?I am not done giving birth yet,? she proudly told The Weekend Globe.
However, it is not all gloomy for young females in Gbese as the story of 21-year-old senior high school graduate Josephine Afful shows. Dressed in a white top and blue jeans, she stood out in her group of friends as they stood in front of the Gbese Palace playing the popular local game ampe. Josephine is aspiring to be an accountant and said her cousin, who is also an accountant, spurs her on in the face of the lifestyle she is exposed to in the community.
However, not everything has been cozy for Josephine. Describing the situation around her as ?trouble,? she told the newspaper: ?I know what I want to achieve in life.?
Josephine?s experience, however, happens to be the exception, as most of her closest friends have fallen off along the way and given up to the life in Gbese.
Unlike Josephine and Naa Ayeley, Mary Arthur, the first child of Gifty Torto, does not even know what the four corners of a classroom look like: she has never once been to school or attended a class.
Mary is a petite young woman. At 18, she clutched her one-and-a-half year old baby under her arm with such deft. Mary?s mother engaged her in a tie and dye apprenticeship, but she never completed learning the art. ?I dropped out when I got pregnant,? she told the paper. She has never had another chance at learning a trade. Rather, she?s added an extra mouth to the family, and her mother Gifty has had to spend more time working in order to take care of the child. The young men in Gbese seem to take advantage of the desperate situation of the community?s young mothers. Mary, for instance, had to move in with another man after the boyfriend who impregnated her deserted her. However, she is not bothered about becoming pregnant again from her new ?husband.?
Mary?s mother conceded that many parents are to blame for their children?s delinquency, as the majority of the fathers are runaway dads or unemployed, leaving their kids in the hands of their mothers. According to her, those with authority in the community see this as a normal. It ?does not bother the leaders in the community,? she said.
?After all, they are not the ones that gave birth to them.?
Gifty herself is struggling to cater for her five children, a tough responsibility that pushed her to try and get her daughter have an abortion. ?Now that the rains have set in, I sell umbrellas,? Gifty
told The Weekend Globe. ?I was worried my first daughter got pregnant at 17 years. I wanted her to abort it, so she can concentrate on her training and then give birth when she was ready. But I was talked out of it.?
Gbese is home to the popular Salaga market. People in the community are mainly engaged in fishing and other vocational occupations such as carpentry and masonry. Most of the womenfolk are fish mongers.
Although in a state of decay following what seems to be years of neglect by subsequent governments, the district is a popular tourist destination for those seeking to see the remnants of Accra?s colonial past, including the light house and the old fishing harbor at James Town. In the face of a glaring problem like what persists in Gbese, all authorities could do was lament when The Weekend Globe spoke to them.
Emmanuel Botchway, the assembly member for the Kinka Electoral Area includes Gbese, confirmed the rising incidence of teenage pregnancies to the newspaper and admitted that it was their biggest challenge.
?Children here do not like to go to school,? he said. ?We are having a lot of problems.?
Mr Botchway, however, said community durbars are organized frequently to educate and sensitize the youth on the benefits of staying in school.
Another sensitization program that goes on in Gbese and surrounding communities is one on reproductive health. IPAS Ghana, a reproductive health NGO, seeks to reduce maternal mortalities caused by unsafe abortions and is very active in Gbese.
Selorm Kofi Azumah of IPAS Ghana told The Weekend Globe that IPAS is concerned about the low level of education in these communities, which leads to the alarming number of teenage girls getting pregnant. He said IPAS? target is to reduce these numbers with constant education on sexual reproductive health and unsafe abortions.
?We work with queen mothers and peer educators to provide information with focus on teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortion,? Mr Azumah said. ?We make referrals to health facilities for family planning services. We also promote abstinence, but for many of them the concern is more about pregnancy, and so we emphasize the issue of family planning.?
But all hope is not lost, as Gifty is hopeful that her one-and-a-half year old grandchild, Elisabeth Naa Sanku Nertey, will have a bright future. She has a plan, and that is to raise her outside what she
consideres a debauched lifestyle in Gbese.
?I don?t want her to pick up the life here,? she said.