Adolescence is that period when a child is transitioning from being your child into an adult. He or she is forming his or her own independent personality. Most parents have difficulties understanding their children at this stage of life. While the child is struggling with all the changes in his or her body and mind, some parents still insist on treating the Adolescent like a 10 year old. These results in all manner of ensuing problems between parents and their adolescents. One of these issues borders on sex and Health Education.

Adolescence is a transition period from childhood to adulthood. Demographics show the world is now home to the largest generation of young people. In Nigeria, young people make up about 36% of the population (only second to children). The onset of adolescence brings changes to the bodies of these young people and they engage in risk-taking behaviours that lead to preventable morbidity and mortality.

This period also brings new vulnerabilities such as human right abuses particularly in the arena of sexuality, as they may be unable to freely obtain sexual and reproductive health information and services they need from parents, the community and health service providers which exposes them to high rate of unplanned pregnancy, unsafe abortion, HIV/AIDS, STIs ,infertility and mortality.

Lack of comfort in the adolescent, in dealing with sensitive issues and biases emanating from attitudes and values that are either personally held or grounded in religion or tradition, also  act as restrictions on the rights of young people, their freedom of expression and access to health services.

Adolescents in our society are facing these difficulties, because parents do little in the sex education of their teens. When an adolescent is left to figure his or her way out of health related situations, many  mistakes could happen. One of such mistakes is unwanted pregnancy, safe and unsafe abortion, STDs, HIV and death.In the end keeping them in ignorance for reasons of morality could lead to their death.Prevention is better than cure. A stitch in time saves nine.

As parents, if we truly love our children, we must stop being holier than thou and equip them with the necessary education to help them make better Life choices. Would we rather have our children die from HIV and abortion? Would we rather see them develop fertility problems from STDs that they cannot discuss with  us and  seek help  in quacks ?.

The government, community, healthcare providers and parents need to approach this matter by looking at issues that prevent teen sex education and how they can solve these problems. To this end, an NGO called SML Foundation is at the forefront of changing the perception and behaviour of community leaders, health service providers, government and parents in Plateau State for a start, about  the role they should play in teen and adolescent  health. It is organising a Youth Health Conference, as a run up event to the international Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) coming up in Nairobi late November  2019.

This Youth Health Conference will bring together leaders of thought, technical experts, CSOs, academia, grass root organizations, young people, Parents, community leaders, and indigenous people to have an inter-generational  discussion centred around ending the barriers to adolescents and youth health. SML  invited  our column and all readers, to come  to Hills Station Hotel , Jos on the  7th November 2019 at 10am prompt to contribute to this conversation we apologise for getting across the invitation late. If we do not do our jobs as parents, communities and the government in the lives of our adolescents, we will be exposing them to health hazards and death. Some of the areas that will be discussed with the aim of proposing and/or finding solutions are as follows:

Barriers to adolescents and youth health

  1. Health provider level barriers:
  • Lack of Youth-friendly trained health service providers, bias and judgemental health providers. Negative provider attitudes dissuade young people from coming for or returning for services and they in turn discourage their peers through their unfortunately sad experience with the providers.
  • Disrespect for the rights of the teenager to health and sex related information and support.
  • Health services are not designed to meet teenage needs and foster respect  for their rights to dignity and confidentiality..

Young people are more likely to seek or continue with care if they perceive providers to be youth friendly. They will not hesitate to disclose sensitive information about their health to providers who are non-judgemental.

Lack of privacy, confidentiality and lack of youth friendly spaces in hospitals such as  sections called ‘teen health section’ in Hospitals and clinics discourages young people from seeking healthcare from facilities.  Breaches in Confidentiality of young people and treating them as children, breaks their health seeking behaviours.

Also inconvenient operating hours that do not take into consideration, the school  hours of the students, is also a contributing factor. Teen Health Sections should have consultation hours scheduled around the time when Schools have closed for the day. The greater part of the students population are made up of teenagers and adolescents and should be given special consideration.

  • Inadequate information

The healthcare system should make it a cardinal point to establish information desks in every Social Welfare centres and every hospital where any teenager can walk in freely and discuss any health related issues without being judged. If we need to extend this Information desks to churches and mosques, why not? It is better to educate the teenager and then help him or her make the right choice rather than leaving them to their own devices.

  • Financial constraints- The government should also ensure that there is a specific health budget dedicated to adolescent and teen health section and confidential information desks for them. If teenagers are comfortable enough, they can come in with their parents and guidance for counseling. Otherwise, let them go alone. As a parent, if your adolescent child cannot talk to you or involve you in issues of concern to him or her, you have failed. Do not yell or stigmatize that child because you have failed! Start fixing your mistake fast!.

3.Community Level Barriers

  • Lack of Parental Support – Young people are afraid their parents may punish them if they found out they visited a health centre on their own. Parents also do not want their children to know any alternative to abstinence, nor discuss with their children about their reproductive health, menstruation and relationships.
  • Negative Perception and stigmatization – Young people are scared of being labelled or tagged bad names by community members for seeking help with the reproductive health or visiting a mental or reproductive health centre. Community members assume and stigmatize them falsely as going to commit abortion or collect condoms, and as such paints them black.

Judgemental attitudes from parents, community and religious institutions hampers access to sex health education for teenagers and adolescents

The forgoing factors lead to personal level barriers which breed fear in the teenagers– fear of not being criticized by providers. Fear of been stigmatized if they open up on what is wrong with them. It also leads to self-isolation and isolation by others because they do not know what is wrong with them, do not know where to seek help, and are not aware of their rights .

  1. Lack of cross-section collaboration between the health sector and the community – This is also an important barrier to overcome in addressing the linkages between sexual reproductive health and mental health services. As it is evident by the high rate of suicide among this age group, there needs to be an increased awareness among service providers of pressures and risk young people are exposed to during this pivotal stage of life.

Young people remain an undeserved population, unless people change their perceptions and behaviours towards youth health, starting from the family to the community and government.

We need to put young people, their talents, hopes, perspectives and unique needs at the centre of sustainable development. They need to have access to health services and information and be able to exercise their sexual reproductive health rights regardless of age or educational status.

Making young people have access to youth oriented, non-discriminatory, rights-based health services and their meaningful involvement and participation in their own healthcare is key. Save our Future generations by joining the conversation. It is time to join in the conversation.

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