Last Wednesday, I happened to be honored with an invite to attend the Share101 hosted by Reach A Hand Uganda at Kabira Country Club. It mainly focused on building local partnerships to implement the Adolescent Health Policy and advance the position of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights in Uganda and different stakeholders from different schools, organizations both community based and also online based, parents, the youths and well-wishers all converged in the Ballroom that was the venue. With butterflies in my stomach and jittery nerves (I still wonder if it happens to everyone), I walked to the front to give a citation on the topic of discussion.
According to the Uganda Youth Policy (Adolescent Health Policy), the term “adolescence” refers to people aged between 10 – l9 years, and “Youth to those aged between 15 – 24 years.” Therefore Young people” is a term that covers both age groups i.e. those aged between 10 – 24years. Uganda has a large young population with 52.7% under 15 years of age, 37.4% being youth and 23.3% being the adolescents.
However critical analysis of the statistics will indicate a huge difference between the percentage of young people between the ages of 0-15 years and 10-19 years which emphasizes that not many children make it to the later years of their adolescence which sums up to this “The Health concerns of young children, adults and the elderly have hitherto taken precedence over the needs of Adolescents.”
It does not take rocket science however to realize that while the adolescents feel capable of performing almost anything independently, adults still see them as children incapable of handling major responsibilities which makes the adolescents vulnerable, dependent and inexperienced.
With most people conceiving Comprehensive Sexuality Education is all about “how to have sex”, majority of the adolescents are denied their right to access age appropriate, scientifically accurate and gender-sensitive information and therefore grow up struggling with physical, physiological, psychological changes and hold negative misconceptions about their sexuality.
Furthermore, they are denied access to youth friendly services at health centres which results in major and long lasting health complications for example early marriages, teenage pregnancies, unsafe abortions, HIV/AIDS, STIs/STDs plus psycho-social problems such as drugs and substance abuse, delinquency and sexual abuse.
Consequently many adolescents are left with no option but to drop out of school and later lead a compromised and vulnerable life as both adolescents and adults due to the wrong choices they make and just like the saying goes, a wrong choice made could affect if not all, most parts of your life.
The Share101 therefore presented the opportunity to discuss in length and also find ways to mitigate the multiple health challenges and behavioral risks the adolescents are faced with even when the Adolescent Health Policy has been in existence since 2004.
However from the discussion, we realized the loopholes would still continue to be present if the implementation and awareness created does not include the main respondents- the Adolescents both in school, out of school and in hard to reach environments because they are heterogeneous beings with different needs for health information, education and services. Therefore the question that emerged in the discussion centered upon participation.
How can we; involve the adolescents in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programmes of critical importance to ensure their needs are fully addressed?
As I walked from the podium back to my seat, I believed this was one step that showed commitment of the various stakeholders, young and old both present, represented and absent in issues to do with us, the youth especially the adolescents and that it is a collective role in order to achieve well-being.
Special thanks goes to Reach A Hand Uganda for organizing an insightful discussion and it was my utter joy to see all persons in their Respects honor the invite and champion the Policy and also establish its relation to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights.