Women in northern Nigeria are having more children than they want

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Women in northern Nigerian have an average of more than seven babies. But nurse Aisha Sakari why she and her colleagues in the maternity ward at one of northern Nigeria’s biggest hospitals are not busier these days.

“There is no money.” she begins referring to the economic recession battering Africa’s biggest oil producer. “And they want something to eat,” she says on behalf of expectant mothers in the area.

Increasingly, women in the Nigeria northern city of Gusau are choosing to save money by having their babies at home. A trouble-free delivery at privately owned hospital costs the equivalent of $ 11, according to Sakari.

That makes the hospital delivery unaffordable for most Nigerians. A UN study found that more than 60 percent of the populations live on $1.25 a day.

A growing economic crisis, amidst already severe poverty in places such as Gusau, is the latest obstacle to efforts rein in maternal mortality. But it is far from the only factor.

Deeply rooted cultural and religious norms in the conservative north of Nigeria influence how many years of schooling girls and young women are allowed before marriage.

Most girls in the impoverished north-west Nigeria give birth in their mid-teens, according to the Demographic and Health Surveys Program, by the US data provider.

We need to reduce our population now because we are facing huge economic challenges Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world – 814 deaths per 100, 00 live births.

According to UN, the country makes up about 2 percent of the world’s population but 10 per cent of total maternal deaths. Underlying these figures are deep disparities between the regions.

The country’s commercial capital, Lagos, is a center for innovation in the continent’s tech start-up world. But woman’s chance of dying at pregnancy-related death in Nigeria is one in 13, according to the UN, while just one-third of deliveries are with skilled birth attendants.

Public health experts say that, in northern Nigeria particular which is far developed and prosperous than the south studies show that women are having more children than they say they want to.

This is a sign that they may not have access to family planning options, control over their reproductive lives or the chance to make any decisions at all about their lives.

“Its not just about family planning alone,” says Babatunde Osotimehin, executive of UN population Fund. “its also to ensuring women and girls are empowered with education.”

He says UN agencies are engaging with political, religious and traditional leaders in the northern in particular to find “champions within society who understand what we are trying to do.”

While some traditional leaders have begun to speak publicly about the importance of family planning and “spacing” for the sake of mother’s health and that of her future children, politicians from the northern region are a loath to speak up on a personal matter that is entwined with culture and religion.

“The political elite are the missing bit of the jigsaw,” says a development official in Abuja, who did not want to be named.

Some of the few people who are willing to speak directly are female students who are trying to beat the odds by staying in school. “We need to reduce our population now because we are facing huge economic challenges,” says Zainab Garba Jijji, aged 17.