Rejected, dejected, stigmatised …Tears of Ajegunle teen-mothers seeking second chance
Cradling her baby, 15-year-old Janet Vasinica sat on a wooden bench under the shade of a corrugated iron roof facing the door as she welcomed visitors with a broad smile.
“Bros, I have not seen you before,” she said in Pidgin English as she noticed me standing at the door. She still wore her beautiful smile. I smiled back.
“She is so lovely, your baby,” I said, pointing at the fair-skinned baby in her arms as I drew closer.
“Thank you,” she said.
An ominous silence followed.
“Where is your husband? I will love to greet him also,” I said.
I saw tears well in her eyes as she bent face downward. The smile in her face disappeared. She was reluctant to speak to me.
“I am in Ajegunle to explore the lives of teenage mothers,” I told her.
Ajegunle, located in the Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Council Area of Lagos State, is reputed to be one of the city’s biggest ghettos.
“I grew up in this area and I have a bit of an idea what happens here,” I continued when I saw her reluctance.
She began to relax, the smile on her face returned, and she offered me a seat.
“You felt sad immediately I asked you about your husband. I hope all is well,” I asked, trying hard not to rattle her.
“I never planned to get pregnant. When I realized I was, I could not tell anyone or even ask for help. I was ashamed because I had so many dreams of bringing my family out of poverty,” Janet opened up.
She spoke to me in a very light tone that mirrored her age.
“I would have loved to wait. I have dreams of becoming a doctor. At school I was always among the first five. Since I got pregnant, I have not been to school. I doubt if I will have the opportunity again. Many other girls that got pregnant in my area never went back to school, but I will love to go back.
“I am the first daughter of my parents. My mum is a petty trader. After my dad was arrested for a crime he never committed, I was constantly refused access to him, until I met an officer who had seen me at the police station crying to be allowed access to my dad.
“He should be above 40 years old, the officer. He offered to help me, so every time I needed to visit my dad he was always available. We became very close and I was so comfortable around him until he invited me to meet him at a place. I did without hesitation. He had been more than helpful to me, but that day changed everything for me. We became more than just friends and I just could not resist him.
“I didn’t even know I was pregnant until my mum caught me spitting. I immediately ran to meet Mr Charles (the officer), but he only gave me money to go have an abortion, saying he had been transferred out of Lagos and that I should never call him again,” Janet narrated in a tear-filled voice.
Soon after she discovered she was pregnant, Janet said she decided to run away from home to a friend who already had two children. Their relationship quickly descended into drug addiction and a strong will to survive.
“The first time I smoked Marijuana, I felt sleepy. I slept really well. I smoked more and more just to forget what I was going through.
“At that stage, I met Abraham, a boy from the area, although I never told him I was pregnant. We started a relationship but his drug addiction made him so aggressive that he beat me at any small provocation,” she said amidst tears.
She paused, glanced at some men and young girls in another shack smoking, jeering and sucking their teeth. Their sleepy, yellow eyes betrayed the fact they were high on something strong.
“Bros, I have suffered! If not for my mum that later accepted me back, after I was delivered of my baby, I would have became a prostitute to survive after I was rejected,” Janet said with a sigh.
“As a teenage expectant mother away from home, I suffered. Sometimes I had to beg. I even encountered a woman who gave me N10,000 and promised to take care of me until I put to bed if I was willing to let go of the child after birth. I refused because I believe the child is my future,” she said.
Not many teenage girls in Ajegunle have her kind of resolve. Most are selling off their babies to survive.
“I know a particular girl, Chisom, who after she gave birth complained that the suffering was too much. Suddenly the baby was gone. When asked, she said the baby died. She packed out after two weeks,” she said.
An ugly trend
Janet is one out of the many teen mothers with so much potential that may never be realized as they are trapped in a circle of prostitution, early pregnancy, drug abuse and rejection.
At JMG Quarters, a settlement at the heart of Ajegunle populated by the Ilajes who are native to Ondo State, southwest Nigeria, brothels are a common sight. Here, girls of different ages display their skins to lustful men.
At one corner of the street, a shanty faces the canal. Inside it are bags of clothes, lots of boxes and a kitchen setup next to the window. Outside, two girls, Maria and Doyin, sat breastfeeding their babies. They were visibly angry as I approached.
After much persuasion, the two the girls agreed to share their stories.
“I had my first son, Machi, at 15, with my long-time boyfriend,” Maria began. “Today I have two sons for him. I came to Lagos four years ago with three of my friends – Doyin, Salome and Irene – to help sell fish. Today we are all mothers, except Irene whose child died of malaria at six months.”
Doyin, 18, has two children – two-year-old Herine and 2-month-old Shane. She sells bread in the morning and parties in the evening, she told me.
She was 15 when she met John, the father of her baby. She has no desire for school but would like to join a vocation centre and train as a tailor.
Cry for a second chance
Despite the rampant cases of teenage pregnancy in Ajegunle, it is often met with rebuff, disdain, and stigma. The young mothers are seen as a bad influence to other girls and are openly ostracized.
Daina Madu, a resident of Sadik Street, who got pregnant at 16, is a sad case.
“I can’t tell who the father of my child is,” Daina lamented. “I discovered I was pregnant while preparing for my Junior Secondary School Certificate exams and attempted suicide twice. I knew it was the end, because I knew my parents would never sponsor me, but I could not abort it. I didn’t want to die.”
She now sells fairly-used clothes for her parents at the popular Boundary Market in Ajegunle.
“I am seen as a plague in the family. My life changed drastically. If only I can get a sponsor to assist me through school to pursue my dreams of being a doctor. It was a big mistake I now have to live with all my life,” she said.
Chidimma Adaku who lives with a friend in Omololu Street said that ever since she got pregnant, she has been abandoned by her family.
“They all see me as a failure. Daily I have to fend for myself and my child. Many people know me in Boundary as a beggar, not because I am but I have to look for a way to feed my child. I left the father of my child because of domestic abuse. I will love to go back to school but nobody is ready to train me, so now it is all about survival,” Chidimma told me as she wiped the tears streaming down her face.
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