EMELDA MWITWA, Lusaka
ADOLECSENT girls tend to initiate sex earlier than their boy counterparts, but education has been found to delay sexual debuts among youngsters.
Girls who complete secondary education tend to delay sexual debuts, usually until age 21, than those with little education who become sexually active at about age 16, the Adolescent Health Strategy 2017-2021 says.
The study found that 38 percent of non-marred adolescent girls aged between 15-19 reported that they were sexually active against 32 percent boys of the same age.
The Adolescent Health Strategy recommends that this calls for increasing contraceptive access and utilization, especially condoms, family planning and HIV services to sexually active adolescents.
On the other hand, there must be a multi-sectoral response targeting the 60 percent adolescents who are not yet sexually active to dissuade them from making early sexual debuts.
“The focus should be on developing the skills adolescents needed to continue to delay sexual debut and their practices around risk reduction practices, for when they do not become sexually active,” the Ministry of Health says in its Adolescent Health Strategy.
Child and early marriage continue to be a significant challenge for Zambia, a country with the fifth highest adolescent birth rate in sub-Saharan Africa.
About 17 percent adolescent girls in Zambia aged between 15 and 19 were found to be married in 2014, while only one percent of boys of the same age group reported having been married.
“This data demonstrates a very high level of age disparity among adolescent marriages, which has shown to be a high risk context for HIV transmission,” the study says.
The median age at first marriage among females aged between 25 and 49 was found to be 18.4 years and 23.9 years among males of the same age group.
Further, the study found that Zambian women generally initiative sexual intercourse a year before marriage, while men do so at least five years before first marriage.
The median age for girls at first sex varies from region to region, with Western Province showing 16.5 years, while Lusaka Province showed an average age of 18.2.
Meanwhile, adolescent pregnancies continued to be a matter of concern between 2009 and 2015, resulting into a lot of school dropouts.
Among secondary school girls, there has been an upward trend from 1,863 in 2009 to 2096 in 2012 and 3,136 in 2015.
At primary school level, adolescent pregnancies stood at 13,654 in 2009, shooting up to 13,929 in 2011 and dropping to 11,989 in 2015.
And teenage childbearing was high among adolescent girls with no education at 53 percent and those from the poorest families at 45 percent between 2013 and 2014.
And generally, it was found that Zambia has the fifth highest adolescent child births in sub- Saharan Africa.
Teenage child bearing at 28.5 percent was quite high, though signifying a slight increase from 27.9 percent in 2007 and a decline from the 2002 prevalence of 31.6 percent.