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Sierra Leone News: Family planning key to reducing teen pregnancy

The alarming rate of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone has been attributed to the lack of family planning due to widespread peer pressure, cultural and religious beliefs, poverty, illiteracy or low levels of education, early or forced marriage, low use of contraceptives and rape.
According to demographic surveys from 2013, teenage pregnancy rates are estimated at 34% with an adolescent maternal death rate of 40%.
According to the 2013 demographic health survey, girls from the ages of 10 to 24 years constitute 46% of the national population.
Thousands of girls suffer sexual exploitation and abuse each year. Over half of women in Sierra Leone (56%) claim to have suffered some form of gender based violence during their lifetime.
Despite strides by Government and NGOs and awareness raising programs, the prevalence of teenage pregnancy and unwanted pregnancy still remains a challenge.
Mabinty Sesay, aged 17, was at the Syke Street Health Clinic in Freetown. She said, “I never wanted this pregnancy but had no knowledge of the importance of contraceptives. She got pregnant after an affair with her boyfriend she claimed to be in his 20’s. I was a senior at Freetown Secondary School for Girls (FSSG) when I got pregnant, unknowingly. I only realized it after a month without seeing my menstruation,” she said
According to nurses at the Syke Street Clinic, most teenagers get pregnant because they lack awareness on the use of condoms and other contraceptives. Nurses at the clinic said they offer family planning and reproductive health talks twice a week for their patients.
The exclusion of pregnant girls from education has been recognised as a problem for several years. Over ten years ago the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2004 called the exclusion of pregnant girls from school “discriminatory and archaic.” The Commission said that changing this situation was “imperative”.
Amnesty International, in 2015, called on the government of Sierra Leone to guarantee girls’ human rights to non-discrimination and education by immediately lifting the ban on pregnant girls attending mainstream school and sitting exams.
Much of Planned Parenthood’s work is directed towards behaviour change communication (BCC) among community leaders, police and army personnel and Muslim and Christian groups. Safe motherhood, family planning, and the sensitization of young people to Sexual Reproductive Health Rights concerns is a major focus.
The National Secretariat for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy with other health partners has unveiled an assessment and a National Strategy for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy (NSRTP) was launched in 2013 to address the problem.
According to the UNFPA website, “Everyone has the right to enjoy reproductive health; it is the foundation for having healthy children, relationships and families. Reproductive health encompasses key areas of the UNFPA vision  that every child is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person’s potential is fulfilled, and that every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.”
PPASL’S Behaviour Change Information Education and Communication Manager, Adolphus E. T. Beckley, said, “we have specifically tailored advocacy strategies for cultural and religious groups and some male-dominated institutions on the use of condoms and the importance of family planning.”
He explained that PPASL accesses the communities through five service points, 12 workplace outreach projects, and three youth centres, backed by nearly 300 volunteers, nine community-based distributors (CBDs) and a Youth Action Movement and peer educators.
By Saidu Bah
Twitter @mohamedsaidubah
Wednesday February 01, 2017

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