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H.E. Mrs Hinda Deby Itno, is the First Lady of the Republic of Chad and President of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS and Dr. Julitta Onabanjo is UNFPA’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa. As the United Nations prepares to hold a Special Session of the General Assembly (UNGASS) on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) on Sept. 22, they call for renewed commitment to adolescent girls in Africa, saying, “It is critical that we act now.”
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 15 2014 (IPS) - Adolescence is a time of transition from childhood to adulthood. It is also a time of change and challenge.
Today’s adolescents, connected to each other like never before, can be a significant source of social progress and cultural change.
But they are also facing multiple challenges that seriously impact their future. And nowhere in the world do adolescents confront as formidable barriers to their full development as in Africa.
Today, adolescents and young people make up over one third of Africa’s population. They form a sizeable part of the population yet they lack critical investments, especially where it matters most – in sexual and reproductive health services, comprehensive sexuality education and skills building.
This calls for the serious and committed attention of all.
Challenges facing adolescent girls
It is estimated that Africa has the world’s highest rates of adolescent pregnancy and maternal mortality. In Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Niger, where child marriage is common, half of all teenage girls give birth before the age of 18.
This was the case for Zuera, a girl from Kano in northern Nigeria, who became a wife and a mother at just 14 years. She suffered the agony of two stillbirths and was treated for obstetric fistula, which is damage caused by childbirth that leaves a woman incontinent, that arose from her first pregnancy.
Zeura was robbed of her childhood. She also missed out on the transition phase of adolescence and finally, she missed life.
All over Africa, stories like Zeura’s are commonplace. Millions of girls become brides before the age of 15. Close to 30 percent of girls on the continent give birth by age 18, when they are still adolescents. These adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death due to pregnancy than older women.
Nearly two thirds of them lack the basic knowledge they need to access crucial sexuality education and health information to protect themselves from early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Research has found that at least 60 percent of young people aged 10 to 24 years are unable to prevent HIV, due to a lack of sexuality education. We cannot allow this to continue.
A resilient and informed generation
Young people will carry the African continent into the future. They need a safe and successful passage to adulthood.
And this is not a privilege but a right. Yet this right can only be fulfilled if families, society, and government institutions make focused investments and provide opportunities to ensure that adolescents and youth progressively develop the knowledge, skills and resilience they need for a healthy, productive and fulfilling life.
Comprehensive sexuality education, sexual and reproductive health services, education and skills building for adolescents and young people need to be placed at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with specific indicators and targets.
By building a strong foundation and investing in programmes that focus on delivering and achieving specific results for adolescents, Africa can achieve its transformation agenda.
Our desire is for every young person in Africa to be resilient and informed. We want every young African to be able to make their own decisions, to foster healthy relationships, access proper health care, actively participate in their education and ultimately, contribute to the development of their community and their future.
This means that programmes that are achieving results for adolescents in various parts of Africa must be scaled up. These include the husbands’ schools that have been developed in Niger, the girls’ empowerment initiative in Ethiopia, and the child marriage-free zones in Tanzania.
International institutions need to increase their commitments to adolescents, and address the nagging problems that confront adolescent girls and women across the African continent.
Adolescents have the potential to shape their world and indeed, the world in its entirety. It is in our interest to connect with them and enable them to change our world. Yes indeed!
Edited by: Nalisha Adams
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