The high rate of adolescents and youth dropping out of school has become a growing concern among stakeholders in the education and health sectors in Nigeria. Although poverty has been implicated as being at the center of this development, issues of teenage pregnancy and reproductive health in general have been a major concern.
The increase in sexuality and sexual adventures among adolescents, young minors, reinforced by the current and unbridled access to technological devices, has made it necessary to seek corresponding corrective actions to save the future of children.
Whenever a teenager has uninformed and unprotected sex, the possible dangers could be unwanted pregnancy for the woman and/or reproductive illness for both sexes. All have the potential to jeopardize their future. Possible complications resulting from such a development have led to deaths and fatalities.
It is in an effort to resolve some of the above issues that the Novel Association for Youth Advocacy, NAYA, in conjunction with the Civil Resource Development and Documentation Center, CIRDDOC, with the support of the Population Reference Bureau, PRB, non-governmental organizations, recently organized a one-day multi-stakeholder dialogue in Abakaliki, capital of Ebonyi State, Nigeria.
The dialogue centered on the implementation of the Youth Family Planning Policy Scorecard as well as an assessment of Nigeria’s policy environment for youth and adolescent family planning.
Participants were drawn from civil society organizations, traditional and religious institutions, youth and adolescent groups, and other stakeholders from the health and education sectors.
Setting the tone for the dialogue, Program Officer, CIRDDOC, Ebonyi State, Goodness Mgbaja, highlighted some troubling issues regarding adolescent reproductive health in the state. She noted that young people in Ebonyi State do not have access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, tailored to their needs. Biased judgment and hostile attitudes of health workers towards young people seeking such services was also a problem.
Young people’s access to contraceptives was often deliberately restricted by most service providers on the basis of marital status and/or some unfounded personal beliefs, despite the fact that there was no law limiting these rights. .
Participants agreed that providing young people and adolescents with free information and access to family planning and other reproductive health services at health facilities was an effective way to secure their future.
They also advocated for the formal introduction and maintenance of sex education in school curricula, where adolescents would be properly educated about their sexuality, in order to prevent misinformation and misdirection from peers.
Speaking at the event, Abakaliki Health Ministry Director of Adolescent Health, Rosegold Okoro said the ministry, aware of the importance of adolescents and young people, has established the Department of department to address their issues.
Okoeo said, “The teenager is in a very adventurous stage of development where a lot of changes are happening.
“People at this stage need protection and guidance, in order to make informed choices for their own good and that of society in general.
“The ministry has worked with its relevant agencies such as hospitals, primary health care facilities and their service providers to ensure that all have equal access to reproductive health services.
“Although we are limited by some widespread cultural beliefs, ignorance and religious beliefs, we will continue to move forward for the sake of our future.”
Other contributors including Chinyere Eziuloh of the state Department of Education; Marcelina Ibina, Director, Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development; The Traditional Leader of Oriuzor Community in Ezza North Local Government Area of the State, HRH Gabriel Nwite Ngele further stressed the need for parents, school and other relevant authorities to make the tail behind the advocacy, if we are to curb the school dropout rate, reduce the mortality rate and secure a better future for our children.
Ngele said, “If we don’t teach our children about their sexuality, they will surely learn it through technology, most of the time in distorted forms.
“Almost all young people today have smartphones with which they have unlimited access to the Internet.
“So we can no longer rely solely on our family values and upbringing to shape their future.
“If we turn our faces away to pretend, we risk losing them or seeing their future truncated, and I believe that is not our choice.
“I support that we give them comprehensive sex education, starting at home, and encourage them to seek professional advice and services.”
Speaking on behalf of the youth, Oluchi Esther Nwite, State Representative, Pan African Youth Leaders, PANAFYL, pointed out that denying young adolescents, especially girls, access to family planning services and reproductive health is a violation of their rights and should be considered an aspect of gender-based violence.
Nwite said, “As a single young girl, I own my body and my future.
“Therefore, I should have the right to receive unbiased treatment and access to services that would help me take charge of both my body and my future.
“Anything less than that is an offense and should be considered abuse.”
For the Church, however, Reverend Vincent Nwachukwu of the Methodist Care Ministry insisted that the Church cannot go beyond advocating sexual abstinence for unmarried young people.
“We cannot preach the use of condoms.
“We cannot preach contraceptives to young people.
“We insist on abstinence as the only remedy for premarital pregnancies, infections and all the consequences that come with them,” he said.
Nevertheless, the majority of participants believed that the high maternal mortality in Ebonyi State, teenage marriages and the school dropout rate of teenage girls would significantly reduce if all concerned take appropriate action.