The population of young people in Nigeria has been reported to exceed 57 million by the year 2025, a large proportion of which are adolescents.
Presently, about one quarter of Nigerian adolescents are sexually active with age of sexual debut ranging from 10 to 15 years. Adolescents constitute an important proportion of the population of Nigeria, they have delicate stages that presents with challenges especially that of sexual and reproductive health due to the developmental changes. This is followed by unsafe sex as a common practice among adolescents in Nigeria and it has resulted into unintended pregnancy, which eventually ends in unsafe abortion and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI). Unsafe sex exposes adolescents to STI and HIV with a prevalence of 17% among adolescents in the southeastern part and 14% in the northern part of the country.
Adolescent pregnancy is one of the major adolescent challenges in Nigeria. Studies have shown the prevalence of unintended pregnancy among adolescents to be 23% in the west, 36% in the southwest and 26% in the North central part of the country. In southwestern Nigeria, 27.4% unintended pregnancy among adolescents in a secondary school all ended in abortion while other studies recorded about 60%.
The Nigerian annual abortion rate was estimated as 25 abortions/1000 women more than a quarter of which are from adolescents resulting from unintended pregnancy. In the southern part of Nigeria, about 32% of the cases of unsafe abortion was among adolescents who had unintended pregnancy. This poses danger to the lives of adolescents contributing to the overall maternal mortality in Nigeria and in turns the education of the girls involved.
Larger percentage of those who are pregnant as students either dropout of school or are dismissed from school, majority of whom may never get back to school again while others are forced by their parents into child marriage as a result of the unintended pregnancy.
With this, Nigeria has been identified as one of the leading countries where child marriage is at its highest, especially in northern Nigeria. The National Demographic and health Survey (NDHS) 2013 shows that 28.8% of females between ages 15 and 19 are currently married. Northern Nigeria has a rate of 76% of child marriage while South Eastern part of the country has a rate of 10% with adolescent fertility rate of 122 per 1000 women.
The rate of unintended pregnancy and STI among adolescents has now become a major threat to Nigeria with female adolescents bearing the greatest part of the burden. This therefore calls for all stakeholders to rise to actions. In order to save our adolescents from this scourge, we need to start promoting healthy sexual maturation from pre-adolescence and throughout the lifetime, and gender parity. Our institutions must develop a robust synergy between the family life and HIV education (FLHE). There should also be adequate management of non-infectious conditions of the reproductive system, such as genital fistula, cervical cancer, complications of FGM and capacity building for teachers at all level and youth friendly service providers.
We must do away with harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child and domestic abuse and sexual violence against women. Availability and accessibility of sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents are very crucial for prevention and control of sexual and reproductive health problems. In doing this, sexual and reproductive health awareness will yield better results and our nation shall be healthier and prosperous