“I have a 2 year old child and living positively mainly because I had no access to HIV”, these are words that were spoken in a discussion whereby young people were debating the importance of accessing Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS). The narrator of this heartrending account, a youth worker from Mangochi district, told me that the girl continued to explain that she firmly believed that if she had access to YFHS about 3 years ago, the turnout of events in her life could have been different.
When a certain youth worker who was facilitating this session told me about the statements, I felt that the whole nation failed this young girl big time. Why would someone grow from childhood to adolescence without knowing critical issues about sex and sexuality? As I have always argued, parents and older relatives also know that they are supposed to discuss such matters with young people. Every adult realizes the need to discuss SRHR issues with a growing up young person. However, shyness forces people to continuously curtail such important sessions until it becomes too late to so. The consequences are so dire and at times irreparable.
I for one believe that older citizens as well as duty bearers should know that they are also to blame when the country is registering increased cases of unintended teen age pregnancies and shockingly high prevalence rate of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). We need to acknowledge our failure to protect innocent young lives as it is our responsibility to ensure that the young people are going into the adult world which they are conversant with and prepared for.
It is illogical to leave things to chance and expect that young people will one way or the other know about their sexual reproductive health. If one does not take that initiative to discuss SRHR issues with a young person who is growing into adolescence, the end result is that young person gets wrong information from their peers. Let me share with you what a group of adults told me about the most misleading SRH information they once got from friends and realise after some years that it was all a lie. Here are some of the misconceptions that were mentioned;
· sleeping with boys or men helps a girl to get vitamin K
· A girl can avoid conception by having a bath immediately after having unprotected sex
· Infertility in men is caused by failure to undergo sexual cleansing during adolescence
These and many other factors are the reasons why allowing young people to access YFHS is the best option which parents and guardians of adolescent young boys and girls should choose. Young people’s access to YFHS will help everyone serve a lot in terms of time, money and other resources as problems that are caused by young people’s SRH challenges are costly. Furthermore, parents and guardians should accept that they are not experts in SRH. Sometimes, if parents or guardian are feeling shy or hesitant to discuss SRH issues with their adolescent boys or girls then they should let the YFHS Providers do the needful. Leaving the specialists to do the work is paramount in as far as prevention of SRH challenges which young people face is concerned.
There is a need for all to know and understand that access to YFHS among young people is very key to social and economic development of young people. The welfare of young people and their lives in future is shaped by how their sexual reproductive health is taken care of today.