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Reproductive health rights vital for adolescents

EUNICE Kambafwile, 16, is a mother of one who lives with her parents in Nchelenge district, Luapula Province.
At the age of 15, she grappled with the many pressures of being a teenager such as making informed sexual reproductive health decisions until she fell pregnant.
Eunice did not have access to information on reproductive health rights and this posed a huge challenge to her when it came to making decisions.
“I didn’t know where to get information on reproductive health rights because of the hostile treatment young people like me face whenever we visit a public health facility in our community,” Eunice said.
She does not even own a smart phone where she can access social media to learn about sexual reproductive health issues, but has friends who are as blank as she is and have been giving her wrong information, resulting in her falling pregnant.
Eunice says because of lack of access to correct information on sexual reproductive health rights, she dropped out of school after falling pregnant and now just looks after her daughter.
Like many other young people in the country, Eunice has sexual and reproductive health needs despite society often not recognising these necessities.
In as much as many young people are abstaining from premarital sexual activities, some of them may not be doing so.
In responding to the sexual reproductive health needs of young people, countries in the Eastern and Southern African (ESA) region made a commitment in 2013 to have comprehensive sexuality education and reproductive health services for young people.
The ministerial commitment was signed by ministers of education and health from 20 ESA countries, including Zambia in Cape Town, South Africa.
The ESA commitment is about working towards a vision of having young Africans who are educated, healthy, resilient, socially responsible, informed decision-makers and with the capacity to contribute to their communities, countries and the region.
As part of the commitment, the ESA countries will scale up Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) for young people.
This means that public schools and other institutions must cover topics such as sexuality, gender equality, HIV/STI prevention, relationships and sexual reproductive rights in an age-appropriate and accurate way.
As a part to the ESA commitment, Zambia recently gave an update on the country status in meeting the set goals.
National AIDS Council (NAC) director general Jabbin Mulwanda said the CSE framework was developed in 2012 and integrated into the curriculum by 2013, covering grades five to 12 countrywide.
Dr Mulwanda said since the launch of CSE integration in the curriculum in 2014, primary pre-teacher curriculum has also been developed.
“In September 2014, the ministry through the teacher education directorate developed a training package and has begun the capacity building for in-service teachers for effective delivery of CSE,” he said.
The in-service training is being conducted in Lusaka, Copperbelt and Eastern provinces.
Dr Mulwanda said the government is working on CSE and Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) agenda, which targets adolescents to ensure that they access CSE and SRH services.
“The introduction of age-appropriate CSE for in and out of school is meant to reach most adolescents before puberty, before most of them become sexually active, and before the risk of HIV transmission or unintended pregnancy increases,” Dr Mulwanda said.
Government has taken into account social and cultural contexts to improve age-appropriate access to and uptake of high quality SRH services and commodities, including condoms, contraception and HPV vaccine including other related services for young people.
Ministry of General Education permanent secretary Chishimba Nkosha said CSE has provided young people with age-appropriate, culturally relevant and scientifically accurate information.
Mr Nkosha said CSE has also provided structured opportunities for young people to gain knowledge, skills, positive attitudes and values, which will help them apply life skills in addressing challenges with regards to their sexuality.
“As government, we recognise that working in collaboration with relevant ministries including the Ministry of Gender, youth, and others will greatly enhance the effectiveness of our efforts and ensure a coordinated multi-sectoral approach that will benefit young people,” he said.
He reiterated Government’s commitment to strengthening HIV prevention, treatment, care and sexual and reproductive health rights efforts by ensuring access to good quality, comprehensive, life skills-based HIV and sexuality education and youth friendly SRH services for all adolescents.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) country representative Mary Otieno said another critical step in the implementation of both the in and out-of-school CSE curriculum is the empowerment of teachers and other educators with relevant skills to deliver quality CSE.
Ms Otieno said UNFPA in partnership with UNESCO, is supporting the Ministry of General Education in the delivery of an online course on CSE for teachers and other educators.
“The online course falls within the context of the ESA commitment initiative and has been developed as an accessible resource to ensure highly skilled and motivated educators,” she said.
Ms Otieno said UNFPA remains committed to sustaining collaborations with government and other partners to roll out the out-of-school CSE framework, as part of continued efforts to meeting the ESA commitment targets.
She commended government for its continued commitment to secure the future potentials of young people through coordinated efforts.
And UNFPA handed over to the Ministry of General Education eight laptops, eight external hard drives, 25 internet modems and related information communication technology accessories valued at K110,000.
The pieces of equipment were meant to complement Government’s efforts in advancing the roll out of the online course in the country.