DISSIN, Burkina Faso, July 28 (IPS) – Honorine Meda is 23 years old. Cycling in her hometown of Dissin in the verdant southwest of Burkina Faso, she smiles, greets and stops to chat with one of the girls she is counseling.
Thanks to a program from the German Development Agency (GIZ) and its Pro Child initiative, Honorine trained to counsel teenage girls in Dissin on how to avoid pregnancy. She got pregnant on her own, along with her now three-year-old son, when she was 19. It was tough, she told IPS. “I can say it was the hardest at the start, that’s when I struggled the most. I was ashamed and spent a year without going to school after giving birth, ”she explains. After the first year of her son’s life, she was able to resume her studies and now wishes to become a midwife. Some 19.3% of pregnancies in sub-Saharan Africa are to adolescent girls. In Burkina Faso, it is 11%. Many teenage girls who become pregnant in the region, some as young as 13, are less fortunate than Honorine.
“We are there whenever we are called upon. Sometimes the boy does not want to recognize the pregnancy and we have to talk to them about the legal implications of this. If the father or his family do not agree to help the child, the case may end up in court. Additionally, when the pregnancy involves a father over 18 and a younger mother, it may lead to police intervention. But the emphasis is still on trying to make sure the mother stays in school, says Honzié Meda.
“We can make sure that his case gets forwarded to social workers, health care or psychosocial care. If necessary, the support is there… There are even scholarships provided by GIZ which can be passed on to the mother in case of need. Seogo explains, “Just this week, a fourteen-year-old girl who is pregnant couldn’t bring herself to tell her family about it. So we supported and advised her. The family will be supported by the child protection network throughout the pregnancy and beyond. In southwestern Burkina Faso, even before the GIZ program, the culture within the community was relatively friendly and supportive of girls who become pregnant young, compared to other places in Burkina Faso.
However, stigma can still be a problem and the mother regularly feels embarrassed. But, unlike many other parts of the world, the culture of Dissin does not force teenage girls to leave the family home if they become pregnant. Although the GIZ program is having a great impact at Dissin, there is still a lot of work to be done elsewhere. But if the program has proven anything, it’s that it takes a whole village to raise a child, whether it’s an adolescent or a newborn.
This report was produced for the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
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