The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child highlighted success stories and great wins for girls with the theme ‘‘GirlForce: Unscripted and unstoppable.’’
This week, Nairobi will host the 25th International Conference on Population and Development where there will be more reflection on milestones that the forum has helped achieve since inception, particularly for women and girls.
However, the issue of teen pregnancies remains a sticking point as reported cases continue to rise. In Kenya, almost one in every five girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are reported to be pregnant or have had a child already.
This trend has been fairly consistent for more than two decades, with the nationally representative Demographic and Health Surveys showing little change on prevalence between 1993 and 2014.
Recently, the African Institute for Policy Development (AFIDEP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) convened a policy dialogue to discuss best approaches to end teen pregnancies.
The policy dialogue was attended by 70 participants from the government, development partners, the youth, academia, think tanks, civil society, faith-based organisations and the media, who made the following call to action:
Policies and interventions need to include the youth. The process to initiate and implement activities needs to be done in collaboration with the youth if it is to succeed.
It ensures they own it and become champions of it. In addition, to ensure no one is left behind, emphasis needs to be placed on male involvement.
Having the right information and creating awareness on adolescent, youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH) empowers young people to take responsibility for their lives as they are able to make informed decisions and choices that impact positively on their health and wellbeing.
Participants emphasised the need to fast-track age-appropriate sexuality education through clearly defining its scope, roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders and an implementation plan.
This has to be done through a multi-stakeholder approach to unlock any impasse.
The role of parents in providing sexuality education with age-appropriate information from an early age and not just leaving this to schools, media and religious institutions came out strongly from the dialogue as an important recommendation. They should also be good role models for their children.
Policies and programmes should, therefore, seek to optimise the role of parents and guardians in imparting age appropriate sexuality education to their children to develop trust that will enable the children freely discuss reproductive health information and service issues.
A lot of resources go towards policy formulation and not much is allocated to implementation when it comes to adolescents, sexual and reproductive health. This needs to change and governments at both national and local levels need to prioritise the issue in their budgeting processes. Only sustained funding will give us sustainable results in efforts to end teenage pregnancies.
Parents, the religious community, and society at large are critical actors to empowering young people with sexuality information.
A co-ordinated multisectoral approach involving various stakeholders in education, health, gender and other relevant ministries needs to be adopted.
Evidence needs to drive objective discussions and help determine practical solutions to adolescent, sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) issues, including teen pregnancies.
Research is also vital to identifying interventions that work and how they can be brought to scale, while looking at the unique needs, context and circumstances of the different teenagers within the youth group so that no one is left behind.
Moreover, the youth need to get involved in ways that they can own the process and be a force of positive influence to each other. Technology also avails alot of innovative platforms and safe spaces where youth can be found and can engage freely.
Bernard Onyango and Elizabeth Kahurani, via email