Archive for the ‘Youth’ Category

Tackling the Health and Economic Risks of Child Marriage

In Healthcare, Youth on March 29, 2014 at 3:52 pm

What will it take to end child marriage? GHA blogger, Sophie Okolo, points out the recent change in dialogue and highlights the health and economic risks of child marriage in Africa.

Early this year, the conversation about child marriage shifted from human rights to that of health and education. Child marriage is still a hot button issue in many African countries hence this change was significant. By shifting the conversation, public health professionals can address this issue in a tactful way since cultural beliefs are difficult to change. Like any important issue of our time, finding creative ways to address such issues can lead to a change of heart and eventually, cultural transformation.


Despite recent condemnation of child marriage in many African countries, tradition and beliefs continue to ruin young lives in remote regions. For example, child marriage is prohibited under Nigeria’s Child Rights Act (enacted in 23 of 36 Nigeria’s 36 states), which bans marriage or betrothal before the age of 18. But federal laws compete with age-old customs, as well as a decade of state-level sharia law in Muslim states. Last year, the Nigerian Senate came under attack for failing to include the age at which girls can get married thereby condoning child marriages. These customs and laws should be challenged although health information can go a long way in addressing this critical issue. For instance, girls who marry too young are denied the educational opportunities of their peers and are put at greater health risks, such as HIV and teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancy may lead to a difficult and prolonged labor which can result in a fistula, an abnormal connection between an organ, vessel, or intestine and another structure that causes uncontrolled urination or defecation. According to Dr Mutia, one of two practicing fistula surgeons in Zamfara, Nigeria, “fistulas can happen to anyone, but are most common among young women whose pelvises aren’t at full capacity to accommodate the passage of a child.” In the development community, studies have shown that child marriage is also linked to poverty. Rachel Vogelstein, a Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, states that “Recent research suggests that families in crisis situations are more likely to marry their daughters early, either to preserve resources by offloading economic responsibility for their girl children or in an attempt to ensure their daughters’ safety from conflict-related sexual violence.” Clearly, child marriage is a complex issue.

Although the number of global child marriages is declining, rates are staggering in countries like Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic. More than two out of every three girls are married before eighteen. Roughly half of the girls married early in Niger do so before turning fifteen. Since there is no magical solution to child marriage, combined efforts may help women and girls lead healthy and successful lives. The goal is to help African societies fully comprehend the seriousness of the issue.


The Millennium Development Goals: Positioning Boys For The Future

In MDGs, Youth on March 10, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Global Health Africa blogger, Sophie Okolo, highlights the lack of emphasis on the development of boys in the Millennium Development Goals. She argues that public health programs need to engage both girls and boys to promote cultural change.

I’d like to see where boys and girls end up if they get equal encouragement – I think we might have some differences in how leadership is done – Sheryl Sandberg

Last month, I had an interview with an organization that enables young girls to excel in school, and young women to defeat the causes of what they endured in life. As the interview continued, I asked about the inclusion of boys in their agenda since these girls would grow up in a society that may not value them as equal contributors. It is well-known that boys are preferred over girls in lots of countries hence public health programs do not see a need to include boys. Even the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have a main focus on women and girls which poses a significant problem in the future. Such one-dimensional focus sets a stage where girls aspire to impact society but do not receive support from the boys/men in their lives. The MDGs need to encourage programs that co-educate and expand opportunities for both girls and boys in order to achieve cultural change in African nations.


When we educate and empower girls, who are we leaving as spouses when they want to marry? In my opinion, we are doing girls a disservice if we do not prepare boys to become supportive husbands as well as brothers, sons, and leaders in society. I believe that when organizations see the importance of boys, the discourse will start to shift and it is encouraging to know that some organizations are starting to educate boys to bring out cultural change. Like girls, boys have substantial energy, resilience and the power to induce change. When boys are educated and empowered, there are gains on various levels such as challenging a culture that condones child marriage, violence against women, and much more. In fact, a report by IRIN, award-winning humanitarian news and analysis service, highlighted Zimbabwean men who have become increasingly involved in caring for AIDS patients, challenging the stereotype that caring for the terminally ill is women’s work. Since boys and girls are part of society, I believe they can achieve more success together than separate. Neither boys nor girls run the world and society will suffer if one decides to run the world alone.

Currently, Africa is the most youthful continent in the world. At least 35 per cent of its more than one billion population is between the ages of 15 and 35. This number will continue to increase as Africa’s population grows. Therefore, investing in children, which includes boys should also be top priority for cultural transformation. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a writer from Nigeria, states “Culture does not make people. People make culture.”

Investing in Africa’s Youth

In Youth on October 19, 2012 at 2:29 pm

One of the main issues of The African Union Youth Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (12-14 Sept 2012) was to highlight the need for youth empowerment in Africa. This is a welcome development because youths make up the next generation of workers, parents, and leaders. Therefore, investing in them is top priority for the continent’s transformation. Currently, Africa is the most youthful continent in the world. At least 35 per cent of its more than one billion population is between the ages of 15 and 35.

The challenges of Africa’s youth can no longer be ignored. Youths have substantial energy and resilience, and the power to induce change. When educated, empowered and employed, there are gains on various levels. For instance, if they are equipped with the knowledge and experience, they can challenge the current health policies and improve the quality of health care in Africa. It has been proven that income affects one’s health status. Therefore, the goal is to reduce health disparities and produce a generation that can further enhance the current state of healthcare delivery in Africa.

At the end of the two-day Conference in Addis Abba, the African Union’s ministers in charge of youth assigned the African Union Commission and the Economic Commission for Africa to identify policy recommendations for African governments in order to adequately address the challenges of young people. It is gratifying that this is beginning to receive some attention among various policy makers on the continent. Ultimately, it should be the central focus of development strategy at the regional and national levels. This video portrays the challenges of Somalia’s youth today.

%d bloggers like this: