Adolescent girls and boys in Liberia between ages 10 and 19, particularly in the southeastern region are to benefit from a four-year advocacy and education program on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights or SRHR.
The project, titled “Empowered and Fulfilled” – runs from 2016 to 2020. It was announced Wednesday, 20 July at the signing of a cooperation agreement between the Embassy of Sweden and the United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA in Monrovia.
The Ambassador of Sweden to Liberia Lena Nordstrom, signed on behalf of her country, while UNFPA Country Representative here, Dr. Oluremi Sogunro, signed on behalf of his institution. Sewden will contribute a total of forty million Swedish Krona (SEK 40 million) or approximately US$4,670,000 over the four years of the project implementation, while UNFPA will contribute US$675,600 for the same period.
Dr. Sogunro lamented the exceedingly high teenage pregnancy rate in Liberia, and noted that by age 19, three out of five girls in the country are already mothers. “Excellences, this threatens the very core of our society; we are at risk of these adolescents failing to complete their education, subsequently unable to attain skills that would attract gainful employment and thus perpetuating poverty cycle”, he cautions.
The ceremony held in the UNFPA conference room in the diplomatic community of Mamba Point, was graced by several officials both from the Government of Liberia and the UN Family, including Ambassador Babatunde Olanrewaju Ajisomo, Special Representative of the President of the ECOWAS Commission, and representatives from the youth community, among others.
Dr. Sogunro said a typical adolescent in Liberia, like in most of Sub-Sharan Africa will lack knowledge about sexual reproductive health, contraception and their attitude towards pregnancy will be far from realities with unforeseen consequences.
“They lack self-efficacy, are largely involved in risky sexual behaviors and lack future aspirations”, he observed. However, he said with programmes such as SRHR would enhance adolescents’ negotiation skills on safer sexual practices and opportunities thru education attainment can be revealed to them to heighten their self-efficacy and purpose in life.
He also emphasized that parents and families hold the primary responsibility of guiding their young through adolescence by equipping them with knowledge and skills to confront social challenges such as early sex and teenage pregnancies. “However, this role has become more difficult to play with broken families, exposure to negative foreign cultural norms and practices and extreme poverty that compromises positive family values.”
In response, Ambassador Nordstrom stressed that Adolescent girls and boys need access to youth-friendly reproductive and sexual health information and services, especially outside urban areas; “For this reason, the project will be carried out in four counties outside the capital Monrovia, these being Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee and Grand Gedeh”, she disclosed.
According to the Swedish envoy, discussing sexuality education for and with young people is still considered difficult, and few information, education and communication outlets at their disposal. “Sweden’s experience from supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights work globally shows that in order for young people to be able to take advantage of society’s opportunities, such as education and work, and to contribute to economic growth, young people must be given the opportunity to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sexual life, without coercion, violence, discrimination or the risk of becoming involuntarily pregnant or being infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections”, she revealed.
By Jonathan Browne