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Teen pregnancies a barrier to fulfil youth potential

The Youth Connect Africa Summit (08-10 October 2018) in Kigali brought together thousands of young people from all over Africa and the world at large.

During the Health Session held under the theme; “Straight Talk: Transforming Africa through the prevention of Teen Pregnancy” jointly organized by UNFPA and the Imbuto Foundation, the session highlighted regional challenges to realizing young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, leading to teen pregnancy.

Voices of youth leaders amplified the major causes of teenage pregnancy: poverty to meet basic needs, barriers faced to accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services especially controlled access to contraception, and cultural beliefs making young people extremely vulnerable to unintended pregnancies and impeding their ability to access education and employment.

Guests participating in health session at YCA2018: L-R UNAIDS Country Director, Rwanda Gender Monitor Chief , EU Ambassador,DDG Imbuto Foundation, Minister of Youth and Sport Bostwana, Rwanda Minister of Health, UNFPA Rwanda Representative and UN Resident Coordinator Mauritius.
( Photo: Aimable Twiringiyimana)  

Real - life testimonies by teenage mothers from Rwanda and panelists from across Africa revealed the importance of a multi-sectoral approach to young people’s health and development, starting with young people’s involvement and leadership.

Harnessing the full potential of youth requires that they are fully engaged, educated and healthy. When teenage pregnancy occurs, a girl’s healthy development into adulthood is side swiped and her chances of achieving her full potential are placed at serious risk,” said Mark Bryan Schreiner, UNFPA Representative to Rwanda

UNFPA called for stronger policies to help young women and girls easily access sexual and reproductive health information and services as part of a plan to contain unwanted pregnancies, undermining socio-economic transformation.

Geraldine Umutesi, Deputy Director General of the Imbuto Foundation, highlighted that teenage pregnancy in Africa is a “pertinent issue” that deserves focused attention and innovative interventions.

“Teen pregnancy has a ripple effect, which touches various sectors in our countries. It raises questions about our health and education systems, and the standard of living of all Africans,” Umutesi said.

She noted that as much as young girls mainly bear the brunt, teen pregnancy also affects the boys, parents and entire communities as well.

Approximately 95 per cent of teenage pregnancies occur in developing countries with 36.4 million women becoming mothers before the age of 18. Sub-Saharan Africa is believed to have the highest prevalence of teenage pregnancies in the world.

Photo: Panelists during Health session at Youth Connect Africa summit 
( Photo: Aimable Twiringiyimana) 

To the young girls,” Rwabuhihi Rose, the Chief Gender Monitor said “teenage pregnancy often means an interruption of young girls’ educational aspirations, a life of discrimination and stigma from their families, friends and communities.”

Rwabuhihi emphasized that investing in teen pregnancy prevention contributes to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as it improves their health, education and facilitates more gender-equal relationships.

It is imperative to foster an enabling environment for young people especially adolescents’ participation in development – to address discrimination against youth, meet their multi-sectoral needs; promote and support youth-inclusive legislative and policy frameworks; enable the opening of new spaces for their engagement and leadership; mainstream them in all relevant aspects of development and peace; and work with them as advocates and equal partners for change.

Key players emphasized that public policy action is equally needed to address the social, cultural and economic challenges many young mothers face. It is an essential strategy that contributes to reducing poverty, upward economic development,  including reaping the benefits of the demographic dividend.

The event was organized by UNFPA, United Nations Sexual and Reproductive Health Agency and the Imbuto Foundation.