By G9ija

Gifty Nuako has just turned 18, an age when a young person stands on the threshold of life. Instead, her future looks bleak.

Last December, she became pregnant — “a mistake,” she says in a whisper.

She wanted to have an abortion, but her boyfriend’s family refused.

Today, in the back streets of Jamestown, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Ghanaian capital Accra, the teenager hides her barely rounded stomach under a long skirt and scarves.

“Now I can’t work, I can’t go back to school. I don’t know what to do any more,” she said.

Unwanted teenage pregnancy is a major problem in Ghana, simultaneously disempowering girls and entrenching them in poverty, say campaigners.

Activists estimate that nearly one woman in seven in the country becomes pregnant before the age of 19.

And, they say, anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers soared last year after the authorities closed schools to help curb the spread of Covid.

“Schools were a form of protection,” said Sarah Lotus Asare, who volunteers with disadvantaged teenage girls.

The schools also gave a sense of purpose to many girls — a crucial compass point that was taken away when education was shut down.

“Many found themselves idle, without adults to supervise them,” she said.

Classes reopened in mid-January after a 10-month closure — one of the world’s longest continuous educational shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus crisis.