Flanked by some of the most enviable mountains in West Africa with one in particular watching over us, the beauty that towers over Kamabai is pristine. But the animal-looking peaks and flora and fauna are lying in waste with their tourism potential up in the air. But this piece is not necessarily about attracting foreigners to come for a holiday in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Rather it is about the harsh reality confronting our current generation of girls including those living in Kamabai.
Beneath this beauty of this town’s mountains belie children and the aged who have to toil hard to feed. Like in most other parts of the countryside, these rain-soaked families return home in the evening from the day’s hectic routine on the farm, some with tree branches on their head to use as cooking wood for the day’s main meal even if the sun is setting. That is for the boys. And for the girls, it is equally dire if not worse. Amazingly, in all of this belies hope of some sort.
Over the weekend I visited the headquarter town of my ancestral home chiefdom in Biriwa Limba in the Bombali district. There I met with a dedicated group of young men and women who have set themselves a huge challenge. A challenge which if not confronted with seriousness will relegate women participation in a country where it is already low-lying.
This dedicated group of young men and women is the Biriwa Youth Alliance for Development Organisation (BIYADO). And the challenge they are confronting is the rampant and ubiquitous occurrence of girl pregnancy. Here, like in many other parts of the country, girls aged between 13 and 16 years shockingly become mothers.
Not long ago I visited Mile 91 and Kabala also in the north, and Bo and Kenema in the south and east. It was apparent that the rate at which girls were getting pregnant and dropping out of school was alarming. Research has shown that the problem is prevalent throughout the country especially with the advent of new technology namely mobile phones. Many of these girls, rather than study, stay up very late in the night to make cheap or even free telephone calls to their boyfriends or receive calls from them.
A teacher in Kamabai told me that in his Junior Secondary School class of 22 girls, 10 became pregnant in just one academic year. This, among a whole lot of similar occurrence, jolted BIYADO to add to their development campaign the issue of teenage pregnancy. And that teacher is not alone. Many others in many other schools in many other towns have a similar experience to share.
Sierra Leone’s big towns are now a beehive of prostitution for girls, many of them school-goers. From Makeni to Kenema, Bo and Koidu, these girls who should be in school are at most night times seen in night clubs. It would seem nobody cares as its prevalence keeps prevailing.
Despite the pervasive problem teenage pregnancy has been for years, there has hardly been any public expression of concern by Government. Without going into the issues of poverty and corruption in the education sector which give rise to some of these girls getting pregnant and dropping out, stern and well-thought-out programmes are needed to address the anomaly. This is why the attempt by BIYADO to reward girls who keep their chastity between the ages of 13 and 18 should be capitalised upon.
The group pays school fees for that category of girls who go through virginity test and prove chaste. As one parent told me, “the idea is laudable because it will serve as encouragement for upcoming ones to know there is a reward for keeping their virginity”. She laments that the issue of teenage pregnancy has got rampant but the ears that listen to it fewer or deafened.
But despite the virginity initiative having been around for almost a year now, BIYADO have not received the local or central government support they need even if every one agrees teenage pregnancy, with its ramifications of rampant venereal diseases including HIV, is becoming a malaise in our society.
At present women’s groups are shouting out their uvulae that there is an unfair male-female representation in governance and other public service structures. I can’t agree more. But where is the concerted effort led by these women to address teen pregnancy which will only waste the current generation of tomorrow’s women leaders. In stead of these women jockeying and spending all their time asking for fair representation which the male politicians selfishly and unjustifiably seem unwilling to do, such a call should be twined and twinned with a deliberate education of the girl child and addressing all those things inhibiting such. Teenage pregnancy is surely one of the main logjams in this direction.
BIYADO have very scarce resources to be able to sustain such a novel idea. Many of their members are not employed. Some organisation must seize on such a laudable initiative to make it happen and even replicate it in other parts of the country where girls are engaged in sex as they are engaged in eating rice. Someone must care and show it. I would even think that the idea should be made to extend to tertiary level where those who enter and pass a voluntary virginity test are awarded an all expenses-paid scholarship. This makes chastity rewarding and not the trend promiscuity has become. It makes education attractive for those girls who lack role models. By so doing, no-one will need to campaign too much for more women to be appointed to positions of trust and not the few ones that keep being recycled like an old recipe into a new sauce.
Girls who fall prey to dirty old men who disregard their tenderness and vulnerability must be unshackled while the shameless men must be punished. But it has to begin with an expression and show of care and attention for these girls, something that will serve as warning for any attempt to ruin these unsuspecting endangered species. And equally important is bountifully and jealously rewarding their compliance with the rule of preserving chastity until after school.