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Arresting The Canker of Teenage Pregnancy in Africa: Retrospection of The Roles of The Chieftaincy

By  | Teenage pregnancy has been on the rocketed increase in contemporary Africa. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported recently that Africa has the highest world rate of teenage pregnancies with a percentage of 51%. The canker is so alarming that the majority of young girls of ages ranging from thirteen to sixteen years has thrown in the towel of education to forced labor. This is due to the sudden parental roles that these feeble young girls assume that demand that they work to cater for their wards. This puts their educational goals, health, and entire future ambitions in jeopardy and in great peril. These young girls and their children become a great burden for governments in developing countries who must initiate policies to provide some kind of assistance to them in the heat of the scarce resources at their disposal. However, before the colonial era, this sorry condition of teenage pregnancy was not on the rise due to the firm positions and roles of the chieftaincy institutions in Africa.

The chieftaincy institutions in times past were very proactive in discharging their duties, especially in ensuring that young girls are protected till they are matured enough with a career before they marry and procreate. Various societies in Africa had strict cultural practices that served as checks in regulating the moral behavior of young girls to engage in social vices like teenage pregnancy. One of such cultural practices is initiation rites for young girls. The rites were spearheaded by members of the traditional council, the chief, his cabinet of elders, the queen mother and other elderly women. It was believed that engaging in premarital sex was a great sin that would definitely incur the wrath of the ancestors and spirits. The culprits were punished, hooted at, spanked and/or dispelled from their societies. On the other hand, young girls who managed to keep their virginity prior to their marriage ceremonies were handsomely rewarded with clothes, pomade, great luxuries like jewelry and so forth. This served as bait for demonstrating good morals and refraining from any thought of teenage pregnancy. The rigor of societal laws, norms, and values that frown on teenage pregnancy upheld by the chieftaincy institutions in times past, really helped in arresting the canker of teenage pregnancy.

Today, some societies in Africa highly influenced by western lifestyle and education feel that these cultural practices are barbaric and superstitious, viewing them with great contempt. This disdained attitude, coupled with the weakened powers and influence of the chieftaincy institutions in Africa has resulted in the unprecedented weak moral behaviors, giving rise for the unbridled involvement of young girls in teenage pregnancy. Yet, it must be admitted that these traditional practices established by the chieftaincy institutions were and are still very much helpful in achieving good societal living. Therefore, contemporary governments in Africa must revamp the powers of the chieftaincy institutions giving them the mandate to promulgate and revitalize these essential moral precepts and their allied sanctions in contemporary Africa. However, very harsh punishments that challenge human rights can be revised or reduced to monetary fines.

Today, some traditional leaders in some local communities in Ghana are using the power that they wield in their societies to revisit these traditional moral values, norms and practices that curtailed teenage pregnancy in the past and have registered successes though with few setbacks. This clearly indicates the feasibility of returning to the traditional cultural practices to arrest the canker of teenage pregnancy in Africa. If the modern legislature gives the chieftaincy institutions, the only institution that holds the rich cultural heritage of our forebears, their former powers, they will be able to help contemporary Africa to mitigate the ever soaring percentages of teenage pregnancy. This would make these young girls more productive in assisting in the development of the economic capitals of developing countries, adding their bite to freeing the African continent of its deep woes in the economy, health, and education- the constant burden on governments!

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I agree with the view that "these cultural practices are barbaric and superstitious".  Shaming girls and young women for exploring and expressing their sexuality, and even expelling them from society, was not only done in a traditional African context.  It happened in the West as well.  For a contemporary take on this, check out the film "The Magdalen Sisters".  Young women were consigned to a lifetime in these institutions - the Magdalen laundries - in Ireland, forced to work, and forbidden to contact their relatives or anyone in the outside world, for the "sin" of having children outside of marriage, being raped or even being considered "too pretty".  Meanwhile, there were no consequences, prohibitions or restrictions imposed on the men involved. 

Better that we should educate teens to behave responsibly, use contraception, etc. 

Further, in many traditional African societies, girls are married off at puberty.  How does that figure in this conversation? 


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