When youth rescue youth in Malawi

Peer pressure among the youth is not only real but one of the most social pressures the youth endure before they initiate into adulthood.

Part of the technical working group that has helped rescue children from child traffickers
Part of the technical working group that has helped rescue children from child traffickers

This is a fact which only those who deliberately do not want to face up with reality would tend to ignore for selfish motives!

Realising this, Joint United Nations Program on Adolescent Girls (JPAG) has targeted the youth to be ambassadors of their fellow youths in controlling the spread of HIV and Aids, which is still spreading among 15-18 age groups.

The  programme, which ended last year, targeted over 5 000 youths in Chikwawa and Mangochi districts.

Uluche Community-based Youth Organisation chairperson Layana Osmani, from Uluche Village, Traditional Authority Katuli in Mangochi, is one of the programme’s youthful beneficiaries.

Osman says: “Growing in a society which does not provide many opportunities, especially when one has not gone further with education, youths end up indulging in all kinds of immoralities such as smoking as well as getting married early.”

She adds that early school dropout among the youth in Mangochi has been a common thing as youths lack role models to look up to.

“I am currently in Form Four, but I have seen so many friends dropping out of school. So what we are doing now is create awareness on sexual reproductive health (SRH) among the youth in order to control the rate of pregnancies and also HIV and Aids,” she says.

Timvane Youth Club chairperson Jane Maiki from Chikwawa says the awareness meetings are held across the districts on early pregnancy mitigating measures that include family planning, sexual education and life skills.

Maiki says at first taking the message to the youth was not easy because most parents considered the content as a taboo; hence, they were taken as a bad influence on the children in communities.

“During sensitisation meetings, people would laugh and giggle, but after some time people, especially the youth, understood the concept, and our network has over 2 000 youths across Chikwawa,” Maiki says.

Health surveillance assistant (HSA) Blessings Jambo from Mangochi presides over seven youth clubs and says youths are sexually active and it is no use trying to hold information regarding their sexual reproductive health.

He says as HAS they help youths who have contracted sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to receive treatment without any form of discrimination.

“We used to refuse to give family planning methods or even offer counselling services to youths; we thought by doing that we are promoting sexual immorality among the youth.

“As a result, health service providing institutions were overwhelmed by youths diagnosed with STIs, so when this programme was implemented, we were trained in how best we can work with youth regarding sexual reproductive health-related messages,” Jambo says.

Mangochi youth coordinator Kumbani Manda says a lot has been done in terms SRH services awareness.

“We have trained over 60 community-based distribution agents (CBDAs) in Bwananyambi and Katuli as well as 20 HSAs at Katuli Health Centre, these have been crucial in disseminating SRH messages to the remotest areas,” he said.

According to Manda, peers have also helped in getting more youths on board, hence providing outreach family planning services to fellow youths in the project area.

“We have also trained over 250 youths, both in school and dropouts, as peer educators to spread HIV and Aids and other STIs information. We have also equipped adolescent girls with skills to take up leadership positions in various spheres of life at community level.

“These have gone a long way in mitigating school dropout rate, early pregnancies and early marriages among adolescent girls in primary school. However, some cultural practices still play a role in contributing to early marriages, but chiefs have helped in checking on that,”  Manda says.

He says in the past children as started young as 10 had already started practising sex, hence the need to move in and create as much awareness as possible.

Chikwawa district youth officer Chigonjetso Chiromo says: “Sending a peer to a fellow youth has proved to be a good strategy. What stands out is that these youths are able to relate as their peers narrate their experience and how they overcome such challenges.”

Katuli Health Centre health-in-charge Jenala Mowe says they do not encourage giving contraceptives to younger children for fear of inciting them into sexual immorality.

“I am part of youth groups and I do campaigns, but it’s tricky when a child as young as 10 is sexually active. Normally, we advise and counsel such age groups it’s not easy but we are getting there. But for the older ones, we encourage them to use contraceptives where other preventive measures have failed,” she says.

JPAG, a programme that aimed to address challenges experienced by adolescent girls by investing in education, vocational skills training, SRH and protection from violence, abuse and exploitation for young girls aged 10-19, was implemented with support from UNFPA, Unicef, WHO and Unesco.

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