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            Sub-Saharan African countries have the highest levels of adolescent childbearing in the developing world, with rates ranging from 120 to 160 (Singh, 1998; Population Reference Bureau, 2005). Women’s marriage and first births typically occur during the teenage years in most sub-Saharan African societies (LeGrand and Mbacke, 1993; Population Reference Bureau, 2005). The World Population Report on adolescent fertility shows that the number of births to adolescent in this region is projected to increase over the next few decades, exceeding a total of 4.8 million births to girls age 15-19 over the period 1995 to 2020. In part, this increase reflects a growth in the size of the cohort of teens in this region relative to levels in other parts of developing world (McDevitt, 1996). It also reflects the continuation of culture of early marriage and early initiation of sexual activity.

            Nigeria has experienced high fertility levels over the last two decades, despite the implementation of the National Policy on Population in 1988 which stipulated four children per woman, and eighteen years as the minimum age at marriage. The proportional contribution of adolescents’ fertility (among women age 15-19) to the overall fertility rate among women age 15-49 has been increasing over time. Though there has been observed decline by 27 percent in the birth rate among women age 15-19 between 1980 and 2003, 46 percent of women nationally and about 70 percent of those in some geo-political zones still give birth before their 20th birthday (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2004; NPC and ORC Macro, 2004).  The 2003 NDHS report shows that more than 26 percent of all women are married by age 15 and more than 50 percent by age 18. The recently published 2008 NDHS shows similar pattern on teenage marriage and in particular, 23 percent of women age 15-19 in Nigeria and 45 percent in North-Western zone are currently mothers or pregnant (NPC and ICF Macro, 2009)

            Generally, in northern Nigeria, women tend follow the traditional pattern and marry early, with a median age of about 15. Over 50 percent of all teenagers in Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, and Zamfara are either mothers or expecting their first babies (NPC, 2002:44). The prevalence of teenage childbearing in Northern Nigeria is as high as 52 percent in the North East, 46 percent in the North West, and 23 percent in the North Central. A large proportion of births to young mothers occur within marriage and early marriage further contributes to early childbearing (Barker and Rich, 1992). Teenage pregnancy rate remains high and five times as high in the Northern Nigeria as in the Southern part of the country. The contribution of adolescents to overall fertility in the North East and North West regions of the country is about three times as high as that of their counterparts in the South East and four times that of those in the South West (NPC, 2002).

            Given the high levels of adolescent pregnancy, marriage and childbearing in an era of government prioritization of education as a means to formal employment, an   investigation into the reproductive motivations and desires of the youth is of tremendous intellectual, policy and programmatic importance.


            To date, motivations for adolescent reproductive behaviour remain poorly understood, because very little research has examined motivation or predispositions towards the reproductive behaviour, particularly pregnancy, marriage, childbearing and childrearing among male and female adolescents. Little is also known descriptively about the kinds of predispositions that adolescents have towards reproductive behaviour. Most studied is motivation towards sex, or to contraception, especially to use condoms, primarily as a result of public health concern about HIV/AIDS epidemic.         

More disconcertingly, marriage and fatherhood among young men are generally poorly covered by the literature and by programmes in the field of sexual and reproductive health. Indeed from the perspective of developing countries, we know relatively little about married adolescent males and adolescent fathers in terms of their reproductive motivations, intentions and expectations. Much of what we know is inferred from research with young women, or comes from a few specific regions in the world (Barker et al, 2003).

In particular, adolescent marriage and child bearing remain widespread in the northwestern zone of Nigeria despite various efforts by governments and non-governmental organizations to discourage the practices. Motivations for adolescent pregnancy, marriage, childbearing and family size remain poorly understood, thereby making interventions less cause-specific. A comprehensive understanding of adolescents’ fertility behaviour requires exploring the motivations and desires of both males and females as they influence male-female relationships and how the related behavioral outcomes are modified by contexts in which they occur.

            In addition, evidence drawn from the available literature indicates that childbearing among adolescents, whether within marital union or outside it, has far-reaching consequences (NPC, 2004:59; Zabin and Kiragu, 1998; Cochrane and Farid, 1989; Haga, 1989; Adetoro and Agah, 1988). Ajayi et al (1998) has suggested that adolescent reproductive behaviour is becoming a social problem in many sub-Saharan African countries because it tends to lead to school dropouts, illegal abortions, child abandonment, increasing number of adolescent prostitutes, early breakdown of marriages, and the growing rate of HIV/AIDS particularly among young women. Concern is also widespread that early childbearing leads to the reproduction and transmission of poverty from one generation to the next (U.N, 1989; Singh, 1998; Aina and Odebiyi; 1998). Certainly, therefore, adolescent reproductive behaviour and motivations require more detailed investigation especially with regard to individual level motivations and within Nigerian varied cultural contexts.

            Essentially, Nigerian society is multi-cultural and the extent to which adolescent reproductive behaviour is considered problematic varies across culture. Certainly many cultural groups in Nigeria differ in their way of life, philosophy, and family orientation. These differences are expected to produce variations in individual motivation and decision-making regarding fertility. Indeed, some studies (Bongaarts and Potter, 1983; Isiugo-Abanihe, 1999) have observed that fertility behaviour in sub-Saharan Africa is governed by supply factors, thus pointing out the need to understand fertility behaviour in the relevant socio-economic and cultural milieu. The prevailing high incidence of adolescent marriage and parenthood in northern Nigeria, also suggests a strong need to understand the socio-cultural perceptions and attitudes towards the phenomenon. Perhaps it is in recognition of the existing gaps in the literature in this regard that Tawiah (2002) suggested, among other things, that both quantitative and qualitative data collection approaches should be used to collect information on socio-cultural practices and beliefs so as to provide a more accurate picture and better understanding of the circumstances surrounding adolescents’ reproductive behaviour.

            Thus, it seems that to overcome the increasing social and economic impoverishment of the nation’s young people, the tide of teenage marriage and childbearing, divorce, fatherless ness, and out-of-wedlock childbearing must be stemmed. As a first step, it is critical that we pay attention to and investigate the feelings, attitudes, perception, and desires of young people, especially given the predictive validity of fertility preference data.


Despite a growing body of research on adolescent reproductive behaviour in Nigeria, and northern Nigeria in particular, relatively little has revolved around the issue of motivations for adolescent marriage and fertility. The following research questions have therefore been designed for this study.    

1.         What are the perceptions of adolescents towards marriage, childbearing and reproductive health matters?

2.         What are the fertility and family size preferences among adolescents in Northwestern Nigeria?

3.         What are the factors that encourage or inhibit family size preferences among adolescents?

4.         What are the motivations associated with teenage marriage, childbearing and family size in northwestern Nigeria?

1.4 Objectives of the Study

The broad objective of the study is to investigate the social context of motivations associated with teenage marriage, childbearing and family size in North-western Nigeria. The study specifically seeks to:

1.         To identify the perceptions of adolescents toward marriage, childbearing and reproductive health matters in northwestern Nigeria.

2.         To examine the fertility and family size preferences among adolescents in North-western   Nigeria,

3.         To identify the factors that encourages or inhibits family size preferences among adolescents.

4.         To explore the motivations associated with teenage marriage, childbearing and family size in North-western Nigeria.


            The reproductive motivation, intentions and expectations of adolescents, particularly in northern Nigeria, deserve more attention than they receive currently. In essence, the amount of research carried out on adolescent sexual and reproductive behavior does not match the various dimensions of the problem in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and divers society like Nigeria. In view of the fact that individual fertility behaviour takes place within the context of complex social organization and under the influence of multiple social, cultural and ideological realities (Isiugo-Abanihe, 1994:237), drastic cultural differences may exist in the reproductive attitudes, motivation, intentions, and expectations in Nigerian society, and it is important to understand the problems in the context in which the problems emerged. This study therefore sees the need to examine and understand adolescent reproductive motivation and behaviour in northern Nigeria in order to identify the socio-cultural, economic and other proximate variables underpinning their behaviour.

            North-western Nigeria is one of the geo-political zones in the country with the highest incidence of teenage or early motherhood. The 2000 Sentinel Survey of the National Population Program Baseline Report shows that over 50 percent of all teenagers in five out of the seven states in the zone, have begun childbearing – the highest at state level in the country. At age 19, more than 64 percent of teenagers in all the states in the zone have begun childbearing, with Katsina and Zamfara states exceeding 80 percent. In fact, adolescent marriage and parenthood are a common sight in both urban and rural families in North-western Nigeria, and it appears that there is a conspiracy of silence or apparent lack of initiatives on the part of policy makers and programme planners on how to tackle the problem. Thus, analysis of motivation underlying adolescent reproductive behaviour and preferences using recently collected data is likely to provide the needed insights into the problem and intervention programmes.

            Moreover, in recent times young people have been well documented as a special need group in the area of reproductive health (McMauley and Salter, 1995), and one of the 2004 Nigerian National Population Policy objectives is increasing the integration of adolescents and young people into development efforts and effectively addressing their reproductive health and related needs. At various international fora such as, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo, Egypt, the 1997 African Forum on Adolescent Reproductive Health in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the 1999 World Youth Forum at The Hague, Netherlands, widespread concern has been expressed on adolescent reproductive behaviour. It has therefore become obvious that a lot of insight into the prevailing patterns and influences of adolescent sexual behaviour and fertility in Nigeria, particularly the northern Nigeria, is urgently required. Thus, findings emanating from this study would add to the reservoir of knowledge on adolescent reproductive behaviour in the country, and since adolescent reproductive problem is inextricably related to most other reproductive health problems, a study such as this will go a long way to stimulating further research and developing a holistic framework for understanding the sexual and reproductive health issues as they pertain to sub-Saharan Africa.  

            The justification for the study further lies on the fact that sexual behaviour and its outcome are rooted in social attitudes, socio-economic and modern influences, and levels of specific policy and programme intervention. The conditions that give rise to teenage marriage and childbearing as a social problem are cultural, demographic, economic and political in nature. Therefore, scholars/researchers who are interested or involved in advocacy and programme designed for change in the society will find this work useful. After all, an understanding of the fertility-related behaviour of a society is a pre-requisite for evolving techniques and programmes to alter existing practices.


            This study examines adolescents’ reproductive motivation and family size preferences in North-western Nigeria. The family size preferences are examined in terms of preferred and ideal family size and sex preference, while the reproductive motivation is examined within the context of the motives, attitudes, perception and behavior underlying the demand for and supply of marriage and childbearing on the one hand, and family size preferences, on the other. “Adolescents”, who constitute the unit of analysis of this study, are here defined as the post-pubertal population younger than 20 years of age. That is, males and females age 12-19 years. This is taking into account Nigerian nuptiality and fertility patterns (that is, widespread early marriage, early commencement of sexual activities and teenage pregnancy). They include those who are currently married and those who are unmarried or single; those who have begun childbearing (i.e. have given birth or are pregnant with the first child) and those who have not; those who live in urban areas and those who live in rural areas. The study covers three states in the zone with the highest incidence of teenage childbearing, namely Kaduna, Kano and Katsina.

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