EENHANA – A number of girls in Ohangwena Region, some as young as 14 years old, engage in unprotected sex resulting in high incidents of adolescent pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Investigations by New Era which canvassed the views of teachers, teenagers and health specialists last week established that many teenagers indulge in unprotected sex, but many parents are reluctant to discuss the issue as the subject is deemed sensitive.
Health workers at Eenhana District Hospital said unprotected sex among teens has resulted in an upsurge in adolescent pregnancies and STIs. Compounding the problem is the lack of knowledge on sexual reproductive health among many teenagers. The absence of youth friendly public health facilities in many Ohangwena constituencies, with the exception of the clinic at Eenhana, is also cited as a hindrance to the full implementation of sexual reproductive health.
Some school children fell prey to some taxi drivers and older men who showered them with gifts in return for unprotected sex, while some teenagers offer their bodies in exchange for free rides to and from school especially during school breaks and holidays.
“[Female students] always come to us because they want free rides,” said Paulus Amukwaya, a taxi driver who plies his taxi service along the Eenhana-Oshikango route. “Of course, they will have to pay for it in kind. The problem is if l do not do it with her, she will do it with another taxi driver or somebody else, so l have to do it,” said Amukwaya.
The Regional Coordinator of the Youth Friendly Clinic Risto Mushongo of the Namibian Planned Parenthood Association (NAPPA) said most youth have no access to information on sexual reproductive health. “Some do not have information about sexual reproductive health at all, so how can you seek a service you do not know about?” he asked.
Mushongo noted that the role of the family is key in addressing child pregnancies and early sexual activity among the youths. “Within the normal family set-up, sex issues are not for discussion and so young people become uncomfortable talking about them and instead seek other sources like television and the Internet,” he said
According to the Ohangwena Regional Health Directorate, a quarter of girls aged between 13 and 17 have already begun child bearing. At least 92 percent of all sexually active girls within the same age group are in a form of union or marriage. Last year alone about 1 691 learners dropped out of school in the Ohangwena Region alone due to teenage pregnancy, according to officials.
Because of the high rate of teenage pregnancies regional education authorities were compelled to close 58 classes in 2011, 57 classes in 2010 and 56 classes in 2009 because they had fewer learners.
Ohangwena Region Health Director, John Hango, said the youth pregnancy rate in the region is very high with 25 percent among the 14 and 17-year-olds, and 35 percent among the 19-year-olds who have already given birth to children. Hango said these statistics are “just the tip of the iceberg”, adding that the numbers can be much higher because some of the cases are undocumented.
Adolescent pregnancy remains very prevalent particularly in the rural areas of Ohangwena and has a negative impact on the health of the adolescents and their infants. “Adolescents should be able to manage a life without back street abortion and baby dumping, which usually occurs when they do not want a child. Poor access to relevant information and services are especially problematic for the Ohangwena youths, as sexual education is not taught in schools and it is a taboo discussing such topics at home with their parents,” explained Hango. The Ohangwena Regional Health Directorate registered more than 80 cases of abortion in 2012 and this year alone from January to August the office received notice of 74 cases of unsafe back-yard abortions.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) sexual and reproductive health specialist, Josephine Mwetako, said children, some as young as 14 years are beginning to experiment with sex because they watch pornography on television, smart phones and computers. She also attributed early sexual activity to the moral decadence of parents who are sometimes splashed in local newspapers for cheating on their spouses, as well as watching TV programmes full of sexual innuendos.
“A Lack of medically accurate information on puberty leaves young people dependent on uninformed peer sources or unguided Internet searches for information,” said Mwetako.
“Some cultural or religious norms such as child marriage also contribute to teenage pregnancy. Other social issues are intergenerational sexual relationships, sexual coercion and transactional sex. Girls living in the rural areas are twice as much affected by teenage pregnancies,” she said.
By Clemence Tashaya