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Teen Pregnancy in Nigeria Perpetrates Health Risks, Poverty

The United Nations says 53,000 women in Nigeria die annually of pregnancy-related illnesses. That is one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Doctors and youth counselors in Nigeria say teenage mothers are more at risk because of poverty, lack of access to health care, and a culture that does not like to talk about sex.

Pedro Village is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Lagos, Nigeria. Most people maintain a meager existence by fishing and doing odd jobs. There are not a lot of opportunities here, but there are a lot of children and teenage mothers.

Dr. Mariam Jagun, with Compass, a Nigerian health organization, says more than 20 percent of adolescents girls in this neighborhood are mothers.

"For teenage pregnancy the problem about it is, because they are pregnant early and they are not prepared for it, they are less likely to go for antenatal care," Jagun said.

She says teenagers having babies in Nigeria perpetuates a cycle of poverty and exposes both mother and child to greater health risks. To break the cycle, Compass volunteers reach out to teenagers in Pedro Village to make sure they know that health-care options are available.

Elizabeth Uzo - two months pregnant- says sometimes she feels ashamed.

Dr. Jagun says the Nigerian government, with support from international aid organizations, is trying to reduce the high rates of maternal and infant mortality. More than 200 free health clinics provide care to five million women and children in poor neighborhoods.

The Lagos State has also set up youth friendly centers to provide adolescents accurate and confidential counseling on sex related matters.

Ministry of Health youth counselor Christiana Ladapo leads candid after-school discussions about sex, peer pressure, abstinence, and contraceptives. She says teenage pregnancy has been on the rise because society has ignored the problem.

"Our culture, the African culture, can I say the Nigerian culture, forbids teenage pregnancy. It goes beyond, I mean, the fact that we do not even discuss it, means that things about sex are forbidden," she said.

Using role play situations she gets young people to confront real life situations and set goals. Tina Afolayan says one day she wants to make a difference, like U.S. President Barack Obama.

"Just like Obama. If he had impregnated a girl. He would not have been the president of the United States. So I just want to be a great [president] in the future," she said.

By delaying pregnancy, she says, she is giving herself a chance for a better future.