Science & Health Bulletin Feature : Africa-Abortions
29 January 1997

Africa's Adolescents in Danger
from Peter Masebu ; PANA Staff Correspondent

DAKAR, Senegal (PANA) - Doctors and interns at a hospital in Dakar were recently taken aback by the stone-like charring within young Maimouna's uterus.

The 14-year-old had been whisked to the hospital following severe abdominal pains, a few months after she had successfully induced an abortion -- by piercing her uterus with a thin piece of wood.

Although Maimouna (not real name) managed to eliminate her unwanted three-month foetus, a piece of the wood broke off and stuck inside.

For months, she silently struggled with excessive bleeding, which only ended after the blood clotted and formed the stone-like charring. She never informed adults for fear of acrimony.

After a complicated operation, Maimnouna's life is now out of danger. However, the damage caused to her reproductive organ is so irreparable that she has become part of the millions of young African women who cannot conceive -- even if they wished to.

The chilling story of the Senegalese adolescent, who did not know who among her adolesCent boy friends (copains) was responsible for the pregnancy, is not an isolated one but a continental problem.

According to a document circulated at the recent African Forum on Adolescent Reproductive Health, held in Addis Ababa from Jan.20-24, "unmarried adolescents who become pregnant are likely to try to abort the pregnancy themselves or seek assistance from untrained persons."

The document quoted a study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 11 Sub-Saharan countries, including Nigeria, where it was found that "between 61 and 75 percent of patients being treated for abortion complications are adolescents."

The forum, the first of its kind in which adolescents actively participated, was co-organised by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Washington-based Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA).

At that meeting, early childbearing, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV/AIDS, drugs, female circumcision and juvenile delinquency were identified as just part of the perils African adolescents are faced with, three years to the third millennium.

While a substantial number of girls get impregnated by fellow adolescents during their first sexual intercourse, some forum participants attacked elderly people or "sugar daddies" who use their cash to sexually pervert the young generation.

The main objective of the five-day forum was to contain the threat posed by early childbearing by adolescent girls, who are expected to add one million babies each year to the world population, between 1995-2020.

"High adolescent fertility is a major factor in continuing rapid population growth, widely acknowledged as a major problem in the region," said the organisers.

In some of their concluding recommendations, the 500 delegates from Africa, Europe and the United States suggested that adolescent reproductive health hazards could be minimized if religion and culture are used to positively shape the adolescent sexual and reproductive behaviour and practices in Africa.

They called for an intensification of information, education and communication activities, to elucidate on matters related to sexuality, STDs, early childbirth and unwanted pregnancies.

However, the most important proposal was the involvement of youths in the formulation "comprehensive reproductive health policies", which should be integrated in existing policies.

As expected, the usual dissention emerged during the adoption of recommendations, especially regarding a clause which called for the prevention of "discrimination against certain groups," and gays and lesbians in particular. Several delegates spoke vehemently against such groups which they argued were "un-African."

Although certain delegates suggested a total ban on pornographic video film imports and control over what is screened on multinational television channels, some youths spoke against it, suggesting that parents should gradually educate their children on some of the programme's negative aspects.

The meeting ended with the creation of another African structure - the African Network on Adolescent Reproductive Health, whose provisional headquarters is to be located in Libreville, Gabon.

Will it be doomed like many others Africans have created? Very likely so, says Prof. Valentino Lema, an obstetrician/ Gynaecologist, teaching at the University of Malawi.

"Look at how many meetings we have held on adolescent health, safe motherhood and others. How many institutions have we created only to let them die a slow death ?" said another delegate, who thought the recommendations passed in Addis Ababa could also end up in bookshelves or dust-bins.

Without implementing these crucial recommendations, however, the plight of adolescents, like Maimouna, will never be addressed. And the results are clear -- high population growth, which outstrips the capacity of governments to offer vital services. P>

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