At least 10 million unintended pregnancies occur each year among adolescent girls aged between 15 and 19 years in the developing countries, including Nigeria, the World Health Organisation(WHO) reports.
Sadly too, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of their deaths, globally, the WHO report reveals.
Yet, many Nigerian people who wants reproductive health services has access to it.
Young people are extremely vulnerable, often facing barriers to sexual and reproductive health information and care.
Millions of girls are coerced into unwanted sex or marriage, putting them at risk of unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDS, and dangerous childbirth. Adolescent boys are at risk, as well. Young people – both boys and girls – are disproportionately affected by HIV.
For instance, 2018 National Demographic Health Survey puts the estimated number of women aged 15 – 49 years who die from pregnancy related complications at 451 (0.92 maternal mortality rate). Of this number, 56 ( at 0.63 maternal mortality rate) are adolescents girls aged 15 – 19, and 96 (0.98 maternal mortality rate) are young women aged 20 – 24 years. This shows a high mortality rate among adolescents and young women (young population) in Nigeria.
Consequently, adolescents and young people are unable to enjoy the health services they need because of restrictive laws and policies that forbids the provision of contraceptives to unmarried youths. There is the issue of fears about privacy, confidentiality, being judged and shamed when they seek care.
Despite efforts in ensuring the access and utilisation of SRH services, critical gaps still exist in meeting adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health needs. Hence a need to prioritize the health of adolescents and youths.
What is the future of Nigeria without young people?
According to statistics, Nigeria has the largest youth population in Africa and young people account for more than 60 percent of the population. And on this premise, there should be increase investment in the health and wellbeing of “young people to choose their own paths forward,” Pathfinder International, 2018: A Panoramic View of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights submitted.
A review of Adolescent and Youth Policies, Strategies Law by UNFPA confirms that in Nigeria, the minimum age of consent for accessing Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services is unclear. Formal legislation such as the Childs Right Act and Sexual Offenses Act dictates that the national age of consent is 18 and there are no age or parity- related restrictions that formally limit access to contraceptives.
Government at all levels should enable working policies that enhances and boosts the health of adolescents and youths. “There is nothing for us without us” is not a cliche, and therefore young people must be carried along on health issues that affect them through meaningfully engagement and significantly in national and local actions intended to meet their needs and respond to their problems as it relates to health.
Primary healthcare centres should not only exist, but must be equipped to serve the needs of all people, especially young people. There is an urgent need to train and retrain service providers to provide effective sexual and reproductive health services, mental health services and life-saving commodities that meet the unmet needs of adolescents and youths in Nigeria.
Nigeria has policies on adolescent health which also covers adolescent sexual and reproductive health. These include Family Life and HIV Education (FLHE) Curriculum, National Policy on the Health and Development of Adolescents, National Youth Policy, among others.
Apart from overall public health and reproductive health, there are economic reasons to invest in adolescent and youth’s health as the World Bank stressed in its World Development Report in 2007 outlining the benefits of investing in the health of young people as this can strengthen a nation’s economic and over all development.
Access to sexual and reproductive health services is a human right! Every youth, no matter where they live should have access to contraceptives without fears, stigma, or denial to fulfil their health needs and potentials.
Ensuring young peoples’ access to affordable and high quality SRHR services greatly enhances their well-being says, Seyi Bolaji, Pathfinder International Youth Advocate.Ultimately, Bolaji argues, this guarantees future opportunities in life for the Nigerian young people.
Therefore, governments must prioritise the unmet needs of young people to enable them fulfill their potential.
Bolaji urges government at all levels to ensure that inaccessibility to SRH services should be a thing of the past.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, the group has been negatively affected more than others due to the disruptions of essential health and social services.
As Nigeria joins to commemorate the International Youth Day 2021, Nigerian adolescents and youth want government at all level to provide comprehensive sexuality education that is both age appropriate and medically accurate to reduce unintended pregnancies.
Indeed, allocation of budget for sexual and reproductive health services which include healthcare workers’ training on youth friendly services is also essential. The time to act is now.