Societal stigmatization of victims of teenage pregnancy and unmarried single mothers continues to sparkle in deep-rooted cultural settings like the Gambia.
Victims live through undesired and heart-wrenching societal harassment leaving dreams of a better version of themselves diluted.
Satang Dumbuya, a mother of two and a social justice advocate, shared her experience which she described as one of the toughest journeys.
“I am a mother of two, a girl and a boy. The journey generally hasn’t been an easy one. It has been tough. Along the way, you lose people because of the cultures and norms. In this country, anybody who gets pregnant out of wedlock is a bad child, so people would not want their children to associate with you. Some of your friends will let go because they think you have failed in life and generally they are better than you,” she laments.
The fate of victims of teenage pregnancy and unmarried single mothers in most circumstances is decided by the victim’s immediate family or society.
Some of them, especially those in the rural settlements are either forced into early marriage or be the ‘black sheep’ of the family.
Satang like many struggles on their own to fend for their children and themselves in all circumstances.
These according to her, opportunities have been shut down for her deliberately because of her past actions.
“It hasn’t been easy, at some point I gave up on all my dreams because of too much stigma and discrimination. Many people will judge you, people will seize opportunities from you deliberately because they don’t want you to make it in life because they already believe you have failed and you are only bound to fail.”
Impacts of the trauma caused many to give up in life. However, some posed as irons and resist the hardest of all troubles to discover and make a better life for themselves.
“I realized that I am bigger than my mistake and I am bigger than what anybody may think of me so I decided to collect my life and recollect myself. Re-strategize and built new aims and goals. I have an organization that I am running, I have some other things that I am doing. New skills I am trying to learn so it has not been easy but it has been a story that I can tell someday with a huge smile on my face,” Satang cheerfully concluded.
Kaddy Saidy, a victim of teenage pregnancy now a student at the University of The Gambia, also shared her story with us. Unlike Satang, Kaddy was just 16 years old when she got impregnated by her school teacher who she said took advantage of her trusteeship.
“It happened to me just months after I finished my grade 9 in 2012. I was victimized by my teacher in junior school and I happen to get pregnant out of it. I never consented to it, I had a trusteeship with my teacher and he took advantage of it,” she said.
Section 5 of the Sexual Offences Act2013 incriminates a person who unlawfully has carnal knowledge of a girl between the ages of sixteen and eighteen and is liable on conviction to imprisonment not exceeding seven years.
The Criminal Code provides for traditional offenses relating to sexual violence against women such as rape. According to section 122, the maximum punishment for rape is life imprisonment, and the maximum punishment for attempted rape is 7 years.
Despite the provisions in these acts, the societies arrogated rulings and judgment towards teenage mothers are stagnant.
Kaddy tried controlling her tears as she laments about her experience.
“The experience was a nightmare for me, my education was halted for a whole year, my family disassociated from me, I lost my friends. That was a nightmare for me. I could see people pointing at me, I could hear what they say about me, I could feel people disassociating themselves from me. I could hear parents telling their children not to move or talk with me. All these happened, and because I could no longer take it I decided to leave that place and look for another place. I ran away from the discrimination and stigmatization,” she explained.
The Network Against Gender-Based Violence, an organization that has been working on establishing One-Stop Centers in the county revealed that 685 cases of different forms of sexual and gender-based violence on women were recorded, and out of that 164 are sexual violence cases which is 24 percent of the number of cases.
Fallu Sowe, the national coordinator of the Network Against Gender-Based Violence, said compared to previous years, cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence are on the increase.
“From the cases that we have over the past years, we have realised that year after year cases are increasing especially cases of sexual violence that often lead to teenage pregnancy. Once these kinds of cases are increasing, we can say the number of girls that have been impregnated as a result of sexual abuse or rape is also on the increase,” stated Sowe.
From January to August this year, the Network Against Gender-Based Violence has recorded 296 cases of which 172 are sexual violence cases.
This according to Sowe is expected to rise and top more than 50 percent of all forms of sexual violence cases including early pregnancy and teenage pregnancy.
Meanwhile, the 2019-20 The Gambia Demographic and Health Survey collected data on pregnancy in adolescence (age 15-19) showed a decrease in teenage childbearing from 18 percent in 2013 to 14 percent in 2019-20.
The percentage of women aged 15-19 who have given birth or were pregnant with their first child at the time of the survey, indicates that 14 percent of women have begun childbearing: 11% have had a live birth, and 3% were pregnant with their first child at the time of the interview. Only 1% of women have already begun childbearing at age 15.
The survey also revealed that the proportion of having children increases rapidly with age, reaching 29% among women age 19. Rural teenagers tend to start childbearing earlier than urban teenagers (20% versus 11%).
Teenage mothers are more likely to experience adverse pregnancy outcomes and are more constrained in their ability to pursue educational opportunities than young women who delay childbearing.
Sohna Tunkara, 24, studies journalism at the University of The Gambia. She reports mainly on issues affecting children and women while advocating for their rights.