Editor's note: Teenage pregnancy and girl-child molestation are still the dark shadows looming over Ghana. In his letter to YEN, Leslie Mba, the coordinator at the non-profit Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network, is drawing attention to the burning issue and is rallying the government and other related agencies to take a firm stand against such mindset and behaviour.
I was not surprised when I read of 977 teenage girls who risk losing or suffering a break in their education at a very constructive stage of their lives to prepare prematurely for the Daedalus nature of motherhood.
I was, however, despondent and depressed. The news only meant that recent successes chalked up in the area of teenage pregnancy prevention could not be sustained, thus giving rise to this national tragedy.
According to the 2016 performance review by the Ghana Health Service, the rate of teenage pregnancy in the Central Region has in the last five years seen a decline - even though the figure of 12,048 in 2016 is still unacceptably high.
A survey of 5,000 pregnant teenagers revealed that small-scale farmers, drivers and teachers were among the groups of people responsible.
In 2015 alone, 10,000 teenage pregnancies where recorded by the GHS. A figure which is agonizing, to say the least, and continues to climb steadily despite the efforts put in by non-governmental, governments and several activist groups to arrest the situation.
We're working to empower our women, but are we actually helping?
In Ghana, authorities are still struggling to create more opportunities for women and make up in some way for the historical discrimination and segregation against women through instruments that seek to provide a semblance of equal-level playing field in relation to their male counterparts. In a developing country like ours, this news only comes as dire straits to the innumerable activists working to improve the condition of women and girls over the world.
The GHS statistics point to Accra, Kumasi, Techiman, Sekondi-Takoradi and the Central Region as places where the menace is prevalent. It is instructive to note that it is prevalent in the northern parts of Ghana directly as a consequence of early child marriages.
The issue is, following the increased sensitization and education by different organizations of the dangers associated with teenage pregnancy, the laws and regulations promulgated to build a concrete fence around young ladies to keep them in school for as long as possible, the several conventions and social interventions rolled out by the government to encourage increased girl child enrolment and education by reducing the burden on parents, child/teenage pregnancy is still on the ascendancy.
The dire need for supervision and early detection
I suppose thinking of several governments and most of the discerning public and organisations concerned is that school is the safest place for our young girls to develop and realise their full potential. That clearly has proven to be a fallacy as teachers now almost comfortably occupy the top position in the ranking of individuals/groups who toy with the lives and future of our young girls.
This raises a serious question of teacher supervision and its forms as adopted by our educational system, teacher-student relationships and how much research and attention has been given to its development, and, perhaps most importantly, the role of the parent-teacher associations (PTA) and how effective and involved these associations still are.
The role of regulators of our educational system in preventing some of these despicable attitudes and ensuring that teachers are the role models to properly inspire our children has to come under the red light.
The main role of the PTA is to build strong working relationships among parents, teachers and school in the best interest of students and in support of students.
Given the alarming statistics on teenage pregnancy in recent times, I am yet to hear PTAs of this country being major stakeholders in the issue, make a compelling case and take a strong stand against it. I am yet to see PTAs being proactive and pushing for some major reforms in the sector that will protect their own children and future generations.
Most of these associations are simply not functioning, while others are very weak and not well organised. This should be one of the major focuses of the new government, particularly the new education minister. Working to encourage these associations and strengthening them could serve as scarecrows to increase tipping point and make the cost of such irresponsible behavior by teachers and players in the educational sector towards girls more than its benefit by keeping close taps and contributing to effective monitoring.
I make a clarion call to PTAs throughout the country to rise above the simplistic description of them as fundraising groups, and to work assiduously to ensure that the rights and strategic needs of our girls and all students are jealously guarded.
The punishment will come
I encourage more action than talk. The certainty of punishment, according to criminologists, has proven to be a great deterrent. Law enforcement agencies should therefore muster courage and defy all influences and biases by paying more attention to certainty of punishment.
More examples should be made of people who engage in the act and deterrence be served.
There is an increasing need to get parents and community members actively involved in the process of prevention by empowering them with the needed information and resources to effectively monitor and guide their young girls.
I suggest also considering empowering these young girls to detect and properly interpret suspicious attitudes and behaviours of not just teachers but any adult. Empower them to say NO and to report without fear any such incidents or potential incidence.
Empowerment has proven to be a great tool in equipping women and girls to stand up to their practical needs, and should be adopted with open arms.
Empowering girls will empower the country and can double its present power in the future.