Giving birth on the streets of Africa

An African charity worker reveals how he's helping young pregnant women who face giving birth on their own

Street Child Africa

“No woman or girl should have to give birth terrified and alone”, says Father Patrick Shanahan, founder of Street Child Africa, which helps create safer birthing conditions for girls living and giving birth on the streets. He explains…

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“In cities all over Africa I’ve witnessed street girls as young as 13 giving birth in the most appalling conditions: in ditches, gutters, under old railway carriages, in public toilets or under abandoned market stalls – anywhere they can hide. Frightened of mainstream health facilities where they can’t afford to pay and fear they will be treated as dirty or bad, they opt to give birth alone or turn to traditional birth attendants who work in the slums.

“One birth attendant I know is regularly drunk and works in a dirt-filled shack, delivering babies without access to the most basic sanitary measures such as clean water. Babies and mothers regularly die with this woman and watching her work is one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve endured.

“Street Child Africa runs antenatal clinics for street girls and facilities where they can give birth safely and receive post-partum care and support. It’s incredibly hard to win these girls’ trust, but when we are able to help it’s astonishing what a difference it makes.

“I will always remember Josephine, who was 13 years old when she was found, alone in a ditch on the edge of a rubbish tip in Accra. She was seven months pregnant and had gone into labour prematurely with no one to help her. Fortunately, the women who found her persuaded Josephine that she would be safe at the Street Child Africa centre.

“Josephine was young and desperately frightened. Labour was already quite far advanced but thanks to the midwives great skill, five hours later her baby arrived. Although he was very small he was in the right place to receive appropriate post-natal care and Josephine was looked after as she learned how to feed and care for her new baby.

“Josephine stayed at the centre for three months, after which she went back onto the streets and we lost her for a while. Now, however, with the support of Street Girls, she’s working as a skills training instructor, while her healthy son attends school.

“I feel very privileged to have been present for hundreds of births like Josephine’s. These child mothers come to us filled with fear and shame, but they really love their babies – abandonment simply isn’t an issue. No woman or girl should have to give birth terrified and alone, in conditions of filth and squalor. What I’ve seen makes me determined to ensure every pregnant girl on the street has access to the same facilities as Josephine.”

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Street Child Africa supports small African organisations, which work at the frontline of Africa’s slums to deliver love, friendship and practical help to street children and babies. For more information, visit www.streetchildafrica.org.uk or call 020 8972 9820.

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