According to a new study from the United Nations Development Programme (which we saw via Quartz), teen pregnancy rates in West Africa are surging. The increase in these rates, already some of the highest in the world, is in large part because of the 2014 Ebola crisis.
The Ebola outbreak left teenage girls particularly vulnerable to “sexual exploitation, sexual assault and rape.” The United Nations report indicates that as a result more girls (nearly 10 percent more) are becoming pregnant during their teen years. Estimates have the pregnancy rates up in Sierra Leone, one of the countries hit hardest by the epidemic, up from 28 percent in 2013 to nearly 38 percent in 2015.
A sizable portion of the uptick can be linked to education and financial circumstances. Many teenagers are being forced into prostitution as the result of losing their family during the outbreak. For many of those girls, prostitution has become the only option to ensure financial security. Girls without the protection of their family are especially vulnerable to rape and sexual assault: Quartz notes that violence against women in Sierra Leone is “commonplace,” and rape rarely results in conviction.
Most disturbing about the report is that in many of these countries, pregnant girls are expelled from school, a policy that’s becoming more and more popular in the past few years. The leaders of Sierra Leone reiterated their commitment to that policy as the Ebola crisis abated. Quartz reports:
“Leaders have said the presence of pregnant girls will ‘serve as a negative influence to other innocent girls,’ and ‘encourage’ them to get pregnant, according to a Nov 6 report by Amnesty International.
Enforcement of the ban is up to school authorities, according to Amnesty interviews with mainly under-18 girls, which has led to widespread degrading treatment. Girls suspected of being pregnant were publicly examined, having their breasts or stomachs felt by teachers and nurses on school premises. Some were compelled by their schools to take urine tests.”
The news about pregnancy rates is terrible, but not necessarily surprising. NGOs have been sounding the alarm about the potentially disastrous after-effects ever since the epidemic began to wane earlier this year.
Image via Getty.