The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, has commended Save The Children International (SCI) for its intervention in adolescent challenges in Nigeria by reducing child marriage, and early childbearing, among others.
Ehanire, represented by Dr Salma Anas, Director, Family Health, gave the commendation at the Reaching and Empowering Adolescents to make Informed Choices for Their Health in Nigeria (REACH) close out event organised by SCI in Abuja.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the REACH project is targeted at 100,000 married and unmarried female and male adolescents between the ages of 10 to 19 years in six local government areas in Gombe, Katsina and Zamfara States.
Ehanire said that SCI Nigeria through the REACH project had in no little way contributed its quota to the growth and development as well as the general well-being of Nigerian adolescents and young people especially the girl-child.
“Examples of such achievements include the age of marriage, capacities of health workers and facilities delivering gender-responsive adolescent-friendly services.
“The Federal Ministry of Health, through the Department of Family Health in collaboration with SCI, with funding support from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) implemented a three-year REACH project in Gombe, Katsina and Zamfara States.
“The aim of the intervention is to improve young people’s access to gender-responsive quality sexual and reproductive health services and rights, in 300 communities across six LGAs.
“This is fully in line with our vision and priorities of improving access to quality health care, leaving no one behind.
“There is no doubt that the project has within these three and half years achieved the set objectives in affecting young women and girls positively, in the following areas:
“They are child marriage, early childbearing, educational attainment, gender-based violence, decisions ability and access/utilisation of services and improved sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) knowledge,” he said
Ehanire said that the Ministry had put in place, sustainability plan to ensure that the achievements were sustained through facilitating the domestication of the policy documents at sub-national levels and strengthening the leadership of the technical working groups.
SCI, Acting Country Director, Shannon Ward, said that the REACH review findings indicated significant attributable progress as opinions and perceptions of adolescents on sexual health issues changed positively.
“For example, two out of five unmarried adolescent girls, 42 per cent up from 11 per cent baseline, reported holding opinions consistent with independent decision-making about their sexual and reproductive health.
“That proportion is 52 per cent among married girls up from 25 per cent at baseline.
“The proportion of married adolescents, who think that couples should jointly decide about how many children to have and when, increased from 62 per cent at baseline, to 94 per cent at midline.
“Similarly, the proportion of adolescents, who think that women have no right to participate in household financial decisions, fell from 49 per cent at baseline to 33 per cent at midline.”
Ward said that in the face of a myriad of systemic and structural limiting social norms including gender norms, the above stated progress was heartwarming.
She said that it was an indicative of the change that could come about with sustained collaboration, engagement and interventions at all levels, particularly gender-transformative programming that was in alignment with community needs.
She added that the project worked hard in resuscitating and building the capacity of the children’s parliament, supporting the children’s parliament to advocate for the passage of the child rights act.
REACH Programme Director, Rahinatu Hussaini said that the project targeted adolescents because they face considerable sexual and reproductive health risks.
Hussaini said that early and unintended pregnancy affected the lives of millions of adolescents across Nigeria, as 11.6per cent of girls were married by age 15 and 49 per cent were married by 18, with wide regional disparities.
According to her, the average age of marriage in Zamfara, Gombe and Katsina is 14.5, 16 and 15 years respectively.
She added that the first sexual encounters for adolescent girls were often up to two years earlier in rural areas than in urban.
“Adolescent birth rate in Katsina is 249 per 1,000 births, few sexually active adolescents are using contraceptives.
“Adolescent girls in Nigeria face many gender-based barriers to seeking medical care, weak referral systems, and lack of poor response to SGBV are also issues,” she said.
Hussaini said that the intervention was carried out in Balanga and Dukku in Gombe, Rimi and Sandamu in Katsina and in Talata Mafara and Kaura Namoda in Zamfara.
She said that the aim and outcome was, improved the sexual and reproductive health of adolescent girls and boys aged 10-19 in Gombe, Katsina and Zamfara states in Nigeria.
NAN reports that representatives of the state governments of the three states were in attendance including traditional rulers that pledged their continuous support to curb the menace listed above.