The primary source of information in this study were adolescent school going mothers aged 16 to 19. The girls were from grade eight to twelve and most of the girls were single except for two who were married. Main findings show that most of the girls experienced humiliation at school by teachers, classmates and peers. Some people in the community had a negative perception of these girls and were perceived as bad influences and others did not receive family support to cope with motherhood and public humiliation. For these reasons, some young mothers became resilient by embracing the ‘label’ of immoral (drinking) and taking intermittent breaks from school.
Attitude of teachers toward teen mothers
While few adolescent school going mothers reported having been helped by some teachers on one or two occasions, a number of adolescent school going mothers during the interviews mentioned that teachers refused to assist adolescent mothers with the extra lessons when they missed class. Adolescent school going mothers reported that sometimes teachers would refer them to their fellow pupils who would not explain as much as the teacher
“Teachers have never assisted me with extra lessons every time I miss the lessons to attend to my child when she is sick. They would tell me to ask my classmates to assist me with the missed lessons, but I used to feel shy to ask my friends… so that’s how I just stopped and forgot about it.” (18 years grade 12 pupil).
However, a few participants acknowledged having been helped by their mathematics teacher on two occasions. Adolescent mothers mentioned that it was difficult to ask teachers for extra lessons as most of the teachers would demand payment towards the extra lesson.
“Teachers would want to be paid for teaching extra lessons even if you had a genuine reason for not coming to school…I saw it from my Mathematics teacher the very first time I came back from maternity leave. I wanted some extra lessons on “Time calculation” then he told me that it was K100 per session. That is how I just stopped because I had no money to pay him.”(19 years, grade 12 pupils).
When all the participants were asked on mockery, most adolescent school going mothers agreed to have mocked by some teachers at school. Adolescent school going mothers explained the situation to be so hurtful to the point that some young mothers contemplated going to neighboring schools where they were not known. Most participants perceived their teachers as being judgmental such that even seemingly good advice such as Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) was seen as intended to emotionally hurt the learners.
…“Some teachers would mention sensitive issues such as going for VCT, they may be saying it in good faith as an advice; but what hurt me most, was the way they would openly say it in class, though he didn’t mention my name, but my friends would laugh while looking at me…because one day he passed a bad comment when he saw me wearing a T-shirt written [Fridays uniform] “Virgin Power Virgin Pride”.” (18 years grade 12 pupil).
Lack of shame
Another recurring theme in respondent’s explanation for their experiences in school as adolescent mothers was that some teachers looked at adolescent mothers to have had lack of shame. Adolescent school going mothers during the discussion mentioned that teachers remained convinced that allowing adolescent mothers in school was undermining public moral standards of the education system.
“Some teachers liked saying that I was stubborn because I came back to school after giving birth without feeling shy and pretending that all was well. They told me that I am a disgrace because I was degrading the standards of the school.” (19 years grade 12 pupil).
Stigmatization by fellow pupils
Furthermore, adolescent school going mothers mentioned how their fellow classmates stigmatized them. Adolescent school going mothers mentioned that some girls stated that schools were encouraging immoral behavior. The participants reported having been laughed at by their friends for having lost their virginity. The girls confirmed feeling neglected and judged by their friends.
“Some of the girls in class would tease me…saying that the school was encouraging immorality by allowing mothers to continue with school when they are supposed to be home looking after their babies. What hurt me most was that the ones who liked saying that were my best friends whom I used to play with before I got pregnant. But now they would tell me that I have lost my integrity by breaking my virginity. My former best friend was the one in the forefront of saying that I have lost my virginity.” (17 years old, grade 9 pupil).
Most participants highlighted that even if they were allowed in school as young mothers the treatment they got from both teachers and pupils was not good.
Almost all the girls further reported that some learners in school were always gossiping about their status and saying unpleasant things about them. Participants revealed that some girls would share young mothers’ private issues with other girls in the class. Adolescent school going mothers narrated how they felt when classmates were gossiping about the description of the fathers of their babies.
“Some learners talk carelessly and even make up stories about me and my baby. One girl was telling others in class about the father of my baby, that he is a sugar daddy and that my child is ugly. The moment they saw me, they laughed and changed the story. I felt bad and wanted to beat her up. Then I thought of the punishment I was going to get for fighting in school.” (16 years grade 8 pupil).
Community fearing that young mothers will teach other girls bad morals
Some adolescents reported that some community members were not pleased to see adolescent mothers going back to school after giving birth. Adolescent mothers reported that the community’s argument was that adolescent mothers would teach their children immoral activities.
“My aunty chased me when she discovered that I was pregnant…the people in the same compound used to say a lot of bad things about me because I continued going to school before I gave birth. Some community members would even pass bad comments that I would influence other girls with immoral activities.” (17 years grade 9 pupil).
Lack of family support
Some girls revealed that they had to fulfill multiple roles as learners, mothers and wives. Adolescent school going mothers reported that their family members had to decide that the girls be married. The girls who got married mentioned that it was difficult for them to concentrate on school work as they had to do other house chores as well as taking care of the baby.
… “I feel victimized by my husband because sometimes you find that I want to start off for school then he would want to sleep with me [having sex]. I have lost weight because I have to do all the house chores, taking care of the baby and studying…I get so tired that most of the times I doze in class. I am not at peace. Sometimes even if I tell him that I am sick, he would want to have sex”. (19 years grade 12 married pupil).
Furthermore, most adolescent mothers who have been forced into marriage mentioned that their parents/guardian do not have a stable income. Some girls reported that their parents preferred to marry them off rather than keeping both the mother and the child at home.
“My family have been insisting that I get married. The family to the baby’s father did not want me to get married into their family. It has really been a challenge because some are forcing me to get married; the other side was telling me that I can’t get married to their son…that is how I even started selling homemade cobra so that I pay for my school because I didn’t want to stop school because of my husband”. (18 years grade 11 pupil).
Staying away from home
Some girls mentioned having been supported by their parents and being taken care of during pregnancy and after giving birth. However, most adolescent school going mothers’ guardians had no kind words for young mothers, so the girls preferred staying away from home because they were forced to find the person responsible for the pregnancy. They did not want to start a new life with the father of their child. Young mothers mentioned that they felt neglected by the family who did not show any sympathy at all.
“From the time I got pregnant my parents have had no kind words with me such that when I knock off from school I would rather be with my friends for a while than going home…sometimes I never used to go home from school and they would not care…so my elder sister would take care of the baby. It was difficult to stay at home because of the way they treat me, I felt bad … My mother would always force me to call the father of my child and ask him to bring money. But each time I called him, he would ask for sex, so I was scared to tell my mother” (17 years grade 9 pupil).