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Lack of education, unsupervised visits by older males, and superstition have all contributed.
LINGUEWAL, southern Senegal — During her pregnancy, 13-year-old Lama Sabaly would dream of someone crying, only to be shaken awake by her mother. The sobs she was hearing were always her own.
“I had a lot of thoughts running through my head, thinking about life,” Lama said. “I didn’t know what could make me pregnant. Only now do I know that being with a man gets you pregnant.”
In Lama's case, the man was married and in his 30s.
Lama lives in the Kolda region of southern Senegal which has impoverished villages known as strongholds of child marriage, where girls as young as 10 are given to men as brides. Though the practice is now largely declining, girls like Lama are part of an alarming, new trend rising from its ashes: teenage pregnancy.
Elementary school girls may not be married off, but they are still getting pregnant and health workers and families are struggling to cope.
“It’s wearing us out,” said community health volunteer Mahamadou Baldé, who runs the health post in Linquewal, a 600-person village, about 12 miles south of Vélingara.
“When a 13- or 16-year-old girl gets pregnant, she doesn’t have a husband. Her mother doesn’t have anything, her father either [and] the man, often a young man, who got her pregnant goes to Dakar. He leaves her all alone here.”
Despite youth talks he conducted, four girls in Linguewal's elementary school got pregnant last year, he said, shaking his head in discouragement.
Lama, now 14 and with a three-month-old son, was one of those four girls. She stayed in school, though most teen mothers drop out. She still dreams of going to university but is struggling to pass fifth grade.