Sierra Leone News: Single parents are the new tradition

Teenage mothers in Kamaranka community

Teenage mothers in Kamaranka community

In many ways, Sierra Leone is a traditional country especially when it comes to family, parenting, gender-based roles and homes. For many households, mothers are responsible for education, health, feeding and well-being of children. Fathers remain the primary breadwinner offering protection and security.
But, times are changing. This concept of family is changing and the Bombali District provides an excellent example of how this change is affecting young women, children and families.
Teressa Koroma, (not her real name) is a teenage mother from Kamaranka in the Gbanti Kamaranka Chiefdom. She long dreamed of becoming a nurse but this dream was shattered 2-years ago when she was impregnated by her schoolmate. Her reality today is selling fish in Makeni trying to care for herself and 1-year old son. She has limited hope of returning to school and pursuing her dream.
Selling along the Campbell Street in Makeni, Koroma said, “Before the Ebola outbreak I was staying with my mother after we were abandoned by my father. My mother was responsible for my schooling, feeding and upbringing until I met a male school friend who offered help and eventually got me pregnant.”
Koroma was raised by a single mother. Now, Koroma is struggling to raise her son as a single parent. This is the new family reality. Single mothers. Fathers who shirk their family and financial obligations. Teenage girls becoming pregnant and having children of their own.
Kadiatu M. (name withheld) is eighteen, a teenage mother and one of the beneficiaries of the just concluded pregnant teenager’s learning centres.  She lives in Bombali but feels frustrated and disappointed for deceiving her mother and dropping out of school so young. She was impregnated during the Ebola crisis by a healthcare worker who later denied responsibility saying, he wasn’t ready for a baby yet.
“My mother was fully responsible for my upbringing including education but due to peer influence and the quest for material benefits, I got involved with a man,” Kadiatu shares. “It was the greatest mistake I’ve every made,” she added.
According to a study done by UNFPA more than 14,000 teenage girls became pregnant, including 11,000 who were in school before the Ebola outbreak. Many of these girls come from single parent homes, missed a year of school, suffered discrimination and stigmatization, felt abandoned and left out of life.
Catherine Zainab Tarawally, a human rights activist in Bombali, said most times the upbringing of children in any family is a cooperative responsibility of both husband and wife with guidance from the extended family.
But these days, families are headed more and more by single mothers. According to Tarawally, “Educating and raising children, especially by a single mother, is difficult. Mothers must consider feeding, security, protection from external forces, peer influences, money, salaries, health  all of life.” She said if at any point one of the parents is missing, as a result of death or separation, the children will not have shared love from both parents.
Pa Abdulai Gbassay Kamara is an elderly, retired teacher in Rogbaneh, in Bombali Sheborah Chiefdom. He believes that the upbringing of children lies on both parents pointing out that in a situation where one of them is not available some family members may chip in and share the children. He said, “Today, the situation of separation and single parenthood makes life very difficult. Those children bear the burden. It is both parents responsibility to care for those children”.
Kadiatu M. was among the 1,178 teenage girls that went through the pregnant teenagers’ special learning program. But she was not able to continue her education because of finances. She said, “Things are difficult for me and my baby in the village after my mother abandoned me for disgracing her which forced me to migrate to Makeni in search of any sort of job”.
Most of those girls who attended the learning centres, it is believed, were being taking care of by a single parent, relatives, grandparents or were orphans.
Teresa Koroma alleged that when schools were opened after the outbreak she faced huge challenges from school authorities especially after the Ministry discouraged her and other teenage pregnant girls. The teenager said, “Doing petty trading in Makeni is not an issue because my worry is to be able to save money to finance my education because I want to become a nurse despite the stigma I am facing in my community”.
The Social Service Officer at the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children Affairs (MSWGCA), Yayah Kargbo, in Bombali District said, during the outbreak the closure of schools contributed to the increase in teenage pregnancies. He pointed out that most of the pregnant girls came from single parent homes or were orphans. Some were the breadwinners for their families and most of the men who impregnated the girls are on the run.
The retired teacher, Pa Gbassay Kamara, said girls being raised by a single parent are vulnerable and exposed to lots of treats and external influences. He appealed for community intervention, linking children of single parents with religious people might be a good suggestion, he said.
Both Koroma and Kadiatu M. are desperate and ready to continue attending normal school. They want to work towards their dreams. They are determined, single parents. They are the face of a changing family tradition. They represent the new form of what a traditional family looks like.
By Mohamed Kabba
Thursday December 15, Awoko 2016

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