Age at first sex in some districts in Ghana is now as low as eight (8) years with both girls and boys keeping up to five concurrent sexual partners, a new study by the Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights (ARHR), has revealed.
The study carried out in four districts – Komenda-Edina-Eguafo-Abirem (KEEA)and Agona East in the Central Region and Bongo and Builsa districts in the Upper East Region, was the third in a series under the ARHR's Citizens Health Accountability Project that aims to produce a participatory monitoring report based on beneficiaries’ perspective on progress towards achieving MDGs 4 and 5 (infant and maternal mortality respectively).
The ARHR, a network of local non-government organizations promoting a rights-based approach to sexual reproductive health, launched the qualitative study report on Wednesday in Accra reviewed by Hajia Alima Mahama, former Minister of Women and Children's Affairs, now an independent consultant on health issues.
The report said the fear of impregnating girls forced boys to negotiate the use of condoms, adding in some cases the girls resorted to paracetamol with other mixtures to avoid pregnancy.
Mr Patrick Apoya, the lead researcher for the ARHR, presenting the findings to stakeholders of the health sector in Accra, said the first sex at age eight was recorded in the KEER District compared to between 11 and 14 years in the other districts.
In Builsa, he said, female adolescents had two or three concurrent sexual partners, and the fear of disappointment by the boys accounted for the multiple sexual relationships. “In terms of negotiation, girls never talk about sex,” he said, adding that the decision to have sex or use contraceptive was a decision mostly for the boys in the district.
At Agona East, the average age at first sexual intercourse is 12 years with the average number of concurrent sexual partners being between three and four. The reasons, Mr Apoya said, included monetary gain, possible replacement, need for material things, boyfriends not being able to provide for their 'partners' and for security reasons in case a 'partner' decides to leave.
In terms of practicing safe sex, Mr Apoya said most of them negotiated for the withdrawal and condom use methods of avoiding pregnancy.
The report quoted one participant in the focused group discussion of the study who said: “when you have more than one boy, you could get GH¢2.00 each from the four (in her case) and ensures you always get what you want”.
Another female participant noted: “Sometimes you have a boy you love but he cannot provide for you, so we go in for another whose responsibility is to provide for you”.
On teenage pregnancy, the report says the incidence is increasing in KEEA, Agona East and Builsa districts where girls are lured into sex at an early stage without the requisite knowledge on contraception.
Meanwhile, at the Bongo District, the incidence of teenage pregnancies seems to be reducing.
In the KEEA District, a total of 821 cases of teenage pregnancy representing 17.5% were recorded in 2011 compared to 793 cases in 2010 representing 17% of antenatal care registrants. Out of this number, 13 were between the ages of 10 –14 years (early teens) as against 10 recorded in 2010.
Presenting the recommendations of the study, Mr Apoya said adolescent health issues were not adequately mainstreamed across the full spectrum of health care delivery.
This, he said, required approaches that involve parents, teachers and the adolescents themselves to create the needed impact and added that it should not be treated as an issue for the health sector alone.
He said health facilities could do more to make adolescent corners work better than it was currently in order to bring them (adolescents) closer to health care providers, and an effective bridge towards adolescent counseling.
Mr Apoya indicated also that inadequate economic support to adolescent girls had compromised their ability to negotiate safe sex. “In the absence of an immediate solution to this, psychosocial counseling would be an important factor towards empowering adolescent girls to negotiate safe sex all the time.”