The forum brought together 49 children from 13 countries in eastern and southern Africa
Governments and civil society organisations in Africa have been urged to pay attention to issues affecting young people and work with them to address their problems.
The call was made at the opening of the Psychosocial Support Forum at the Safari Hotel in Windhoek, Namibia. The forum, which is organised by the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPPSI) is held every two years.
This year’s three-day forum, which is being held under the theme ‘Breaking Barriers, Creating Connections’, started on Tuesday and it is being attended by about 300 delegates from 13 countries in eastern and southern Africa.
Speakers at the opening ceremony made the call after young people presented resolutions from a three-day youth forum, which preceded the main forum.
The Regional Children and Youth Forum was held at the Namibian ministry of gender and it brought together 49 children from 13 countries in eastern and southern Africa.
According to Divina James, the REPPSI country representative for Kenya, the main objective of the children and youth forum was to engage children and give them a chance to participate in the discussion on issues that affect them.
James explained that it was important for the youth forum to be held prior to the main forum because when it comes to international fora, the youth are usually forgotten, yet many issues that are discussed usually affect them, therefore, their input in the discussions should always be valued.
The young people shared their views and experiences on issues that affect them, noting that they face several issues that affect their quality of life, hinder them from accessing education and health care, thus limiting their potential.
Ugandan youth represented
The Ugandan youth were represented by Anna Maria Abolo, 18, a senior five student at Taibah High School on Entebbe Road. Abolo gave a presentation on sexual and reproductive health and social connectedness in emergence settings in Uganda. She made the presentation on behalf of the Children of the World, an NGO based in Northern Uganda.
During her presentation, Abolo drew attention to the challenges faced by adolescents and young people in Uganda in relation to sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), climate change,
When it came to SRHR, Abolo explained that challenges faced by young people include;
- Lack of access to services because they are not youth-friendly in addition to the fact that they are located very far from where some youth live
- Bad attitudes of the health care workers who humiliate the youth and discourage them to accessing services, which badly affects adolescent girls, especially when they get pregnant and those with special needs.
- Challenges with menstrual hygiene and management which include lack of sanitary towels, water and sanitary facilitates in school, which has made many girls miss schools or drop out altogether because they fail to manage their menstruation. Abolo gave an example of a girl in Kitgum in northern Uganda, who shared with them that her periods last eight days each month, which means she has to miss eight days of school, each month, which has affected her performance in school.
- Issues of HIV and AIDS, young mothers, lack of appropriate information
Abolo also discussed the effects of climate change on the lives of adolescents and young people, for example, the mudslides in Bududa, which have disrupted many people's lives. She also gave the example of charcoal burning in northern Uganda which has affected the rain patterns, causing a long dry spell. This means children have to walk long distances to water sources, which affects their education in addition to putting girls in dangerous situations.
Other issues raised by youth from other parts of Africa for which they ask their governments to intervene include
- Teenage/ early pregnancy
- Child/ early marriages
- Gender based violence and gender inequality suffered by both boys and girls. The boys also complained that girls are being favoured and boys disadvantaged.
- Unprotected sex among the youth and issues to do with STIs and HIV and AIDS
- The need for psychosocial support, for example to deal with emergence situations or to enable the youth living with HIV to adhere to their treatment in addition to dealing with sexual and psychological abuse of both boys and girls.
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Need to share views in comfortable space in order to influence authority and help other young people.
Call to governments
The youth and delegates at the forum called for:
- The empowerment and protection of young people (both boys and girls).
- Support for adolescent mothers and pregnant girls to enable them stay in school and continue with their education in addition to being good parents.
- Investments should be made to ensure sexual health of the youth and counselling services delivered by professional and youth-friendly health workers and counsellors in comfortable spaces.
Governments and CSOs were also urged to promote meaningful involvement of youth in issues that concern them, for example when planning for services that have a bearing on their lives. This was emphasized by the slogan "nothing for us without us". They were also asked to:
- Treat sexuality education as an important part of education programmes
- Promote access of the youth to cheap technology so as to facilitate their access to appropriate information.
- Provide sanitary towels to girls in schools so that they do not miss school.
After a performance from the youth, delegates noted that talents like music, art, dance and drama should be promoted among young people because they give them confidence and esteem to propel them to move forward.
In all that is done, participants called for psychosocial support for children and young people because they are usually vulnerable to many issues.