For many adolescent girls and young women, one critical area for investment to achieving health lifestyles is sexuality education and youth friendly services for sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly with regard to contraceptive services.

As consistently as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, millions of adolescent girls and young women in Africa suffer complication from early and unwanted pregnancy.  The situation is more complex than it seems on its surface: for many of these girls, pregnancy has little to do with informed choice.  Often times, their condition is a consequence of discrimination, violations of their human rights – particularly in situations such as child marriage, rape, and sexual coercion - and inadequate access to age- appropriate and correct sexuality education.  Amongst this tornado of risk factors is the girls’ own inability to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy during such harrowing circumstances of violation due to limited access to family planning and contraceptive services.

Africa’s unmet need for family planning programs and resources is double the global average, and is reflected most acutely in the demographic of adolescent girls.  About 5 million adolescent girls in Africa are unable to access affordable, effective and safe contraceptive services. The result of this lack of education, in conjunction with a patriarchal sexual culture, contributes to millions of early and unwanted pregnancies, school drop outs for expectant mothers, stigma against victimized girls, discrimination and social exclusion of mothers and children, and maternal mortality and morbidity.  The latter, a complex and disheartening issue at any age, is particularly tragic in younger victims who are abused (or even killed) by induced abortions, gender inequality, early and forced marriages when locked into an intergenerational cycle of poverty – a likelihood that is reflected higher in communities without sexual health resources, education, and economic opportunity. In fact, pregnancy and child birth- related complications are the major leading causes of death among adolescent girls between the ages of 15 – 19 years in Africa.

It’s high time for African governments and their global partners, to make the required investments to ensure that young people, particularly women, have access to family-planning services and information.  We want to be healthy, study, and contribute to the sustainable development of our communities, our countries, and our lovely continent of Africa, but this cannot be possible when our health is in jeopardy. Reliable and accessible family planning services are the only way to ensure that sexually-active young people in Africa will not be subjected to unwanted or unintended pregnancies.   Delaying pregnancy and child birth for many adolescent girls has rippling positive effects, including the improved likelihood of staying longer in school and completing education, the amelioration of vulnerability to gender-based violence, reducing the likelihood of experiencing discrimination, social exclusion and stigma, and increased opportunity to realize their potential, where the virtue of their success leads to a positive contribution to the very  wellbeing of Africa.

Women and girls must be able to decide whether and when to have children and how many children to have.  This is their right, and entire societies benefit when they protect this right. Services that allow women and young people to delay pregnancies or increase the time between pregnancies contribute to a national improvement to child survival rates, and protect the health of the mother.  Moreover, family-planning processes longitudinally increase the amount of money a family can save to invest in the children they have, because they can adequately budget for their child’s education, nutrition, professional endeavors, or other productive activities.

In this context, it quickly becomes apparent that women are able to better participate in income-generation activities and contribute to economic development for decades to come, simply by having the right to choosing the correct time to start her family and having the power to determine the spacing of time between her children.  This economic argument clearly demonstrates the ways in which intelligent family planning can help accelerate demographic transition and sustainable development for the better.

Harnessing the demographic dividend requires strategic investment that would improve health outcomes, especially as they relate to access to sexual and reproductive health services. African governments need to make strategic investments in universal access to family- planning services, information, and family-planning commodity security, including expanding the use of modern contraception as stated in the Maputo Plan of Action on sexual and reproductive health and rights, which is reiterated by Article 14 (g) of the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women.

Contraceptive services and family-planning are an economic investment opportunity, because the savings made from ensuring commodity security can be invested in individuals, communities, and countries to realize their potential.  To ensure this, African governments must adopt a rights-based approach that emphasizes the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights initiatives to the demographic dividend specifically.  The sustainable development agenda must be approached more broadly to address the insecurity of family planning commodities within marginalized populations, and I encourage governments and leaders across the continent to ensure that every person’s right to have a sustainable – and wanted - family is realized.

 

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