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Rallying communities for youth welfare

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Group Village Head Kapichila in Thyolo is mad. She is mad at young people in his area increasingly engaging in premarital sex.

This has resulted in an increasing number of cases of early pregnancies, marriages and high disease prevalence among young people of her area.

In 2014 alone, 14 girls dropped out of Chikolombe Primary School due to pregnancies.

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And such pregnancies have been stretching the resources of not only the households but also of the nearby Khonjeni Health Centre.

“These girls can’t deliver at our Khonjeni Health Centre. They are mostly referred to Thyolo District Hospital because they often have complications. They are required to deliver through Caesarean Section,” she says.

And she blasts everyone for this pregnancy culture, including the children themselves.

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“Simply put; these children don’t listen, be it boys or girls. This generation is exposed to many things which are making them to become deaf to advice. They now regard culture as old fashioned.”

Social media platforms such as Facebook, whatsapp, twitter and others may be positively aiding development around the world. But she also thinks they are playing a big role on the child delinquency in her area.

And she also thinks that the community at large has been watching over the problem, even encouraging it, instead of taking the responsibility to curb it.

Young People Today, a website for United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organisation (Unesco), says that a community plays a significant role in a young person’s life.

It says whether the community consists of family, a church or school, they are a source of comfort and support and they help in shaping a young person’s values and inspire them to explore their own ideas.

“They are also vital as gatekeepers in delivering sexuality education, which will save many young lives in the years to come,” says the report.

In Kapichila’s view, such structures have been failing in her community and she is taking some of them to task.

Kapichila has introduced by-laws to help crackdown on early pregnancies and early marriages. The by-laws include that any girl who falls pregnant outside marriage (whilst in school) should pay two chickens, the boyfriend pays two chickens and parents or guardians from both sides pay a goat each.

Around the world, interventions on child sexuality issues have included distribution of condoms to the youths for safe and protected sex. Kapichila is, however, against this practice.

“I don’t subscribe to the issue of giving young people condoms or contraceptives to children because it is like encouraging them to be engaged in sexual activities,” she says.

The chief says her area is struggling with early pregnancies largely because parents and guardians have not been doing enough to look after their girl children.

Most parents in the area do not care much about girl education as they have the perception that a girl child’s destiny is marriage, she says.

“So, we are setting fines on them so that they should take up their role of advising children about the importance of abstaining from sex and the consequences of early sex and issues of diseases like HIV and Aids,” she says.

Vincent Sawasawa is Coordinator for Naming’azi CCAP youth club.

He corroborates that the area has indeed had many school drop outs due to pregnancies and early marriages.

“Some girls have fallen pregnant at as young as 13 years of age and they have had reproductive health problems such as fistula. Others have even died,” he says.

In response, the Blantyre Synod Health and Development (SSHD) of the CCAP church organised clubs in the area targeting youths aged 10 to 24 years old.

Through these clubs, young people meet every week to discuss Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) issues as well as share knowledge with the guidance of faith leaders.

So far up to 400 youths are engaged in the 10 clubs spread across Kapichila’s area.

Sawasawa notes that in addition to the SRHR knowledge deficiencies, many youths also faced gender based violence and many of those who were impregnated became single mothers, as their partners refused responsibility.

He admits that his parents had never told him anything about sexuality and this is the tendency of many parents of the area, which he suggested, is responsible for the problem of early pregnancies and marriages.

“It’s important to have sexuality education in schools and in our communities where parents and traditional leaders would be involved.

“Talking about sexuality does not mean teaching young people about sex but rather equipping them with skills and knowledge that will enable them to prevent early pregnancies and STIs,” he says.

For the involvement of the greater community, the project has also established Star circles which are platforms for traditional leaders and youths to work together in tackling the challenges they face.

Star Circle Facilitator, Grace Khonjiwa, says youths meet at Group Village Headman Mberenga’s place to deliberate on their daily problems and how to deal with them.

“Before establishment, we were trained in problem identification and finding solutions. We have so far managed to hold responsible three young men who refused responsibility of their pregnancies,” she says.

The circle has also managed to influence three girls to return to school after delivery since the programme started in September 2015.

Caroline Bakasa, Head of Reproductive Health Programme at Population Services International (PSI), says lack of information among the youth is to blame for high pregnancies.

“The N’zatonse project was introduced in this area because we noted the gap. We believe this will break the taboos and issues about sexuality and contraceptives,” she says.

Bakasa adds that it is anticipated that there will be continued dialogue on SRHR issues after the project ends in 2017 since at the moment, faith, traditional leaders and young people have been empowered to do so.

Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission (BSHDC) is implementing N’zatonse project since 2014 and it is expected to end in 2017.

“SRH are cultural issues and such things don’t change overnight. For now at least some girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancies have gone back after our project was introduced in this area,” said BSHDC Director, Lindirabe Gareta- Mazinyane.

BSHDC introduced N’zatonse project in 11 districts across the country in 2014 with the aim of giving SRHR information to young people living in hard-to-reach areas using faith based and traditional structures.

In January, Unesco in partnership with the Southern Africa HIV and Aids Information Dissemination Service (SAfAids), developed a toolkit to help schools and civil society organisations engage with communities on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).

Unesco anticipates that it will reach over 3,000 communities surrounding schools and about 20 million people through a combination of community engagement interventions in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA).

The toolkit provides practical information and advice for the countries on how to support children and young people in accessing appropriate sexuality and HIV information and services.

The toolkit has been disseminated in Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia and been translated into four languages, namely: Chichewa, Sesotho, Swahili and Portuguese.

According to Unesco, this toolkit is expected to help in building community knowledge and understandings of topics related to HIV and pregnancy prevention, sexuality and ensure communities are more supportive of young people’s access to SRH information and services.

The toolkit was developed in collaboration with health practitioners and education specialists from eight countries of the region.

It will be seen whether all such initiatives will help cure GVH Kapichila’s ‘madness’ and heal her society in general.

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