#WomensMonth – Health Coach LeeAnne Rizk says “To save their teens from sexual coercion, African parents need to talk about sex”

She wanted to be a doctor, another girl wanted to be a teacher, and yet another wanted to travel and see the world.  All of these teenagers had dreams – dreams that were cut short when their education ended early due to young motherhood.

If only they had known about family planning.  If only family planning were accessible.

 

“Almost sixty percent of the population in Africa is below the age of 24, which means when we talk about pregnancy, it’s going to be an issue within that age group,” said Dr. Akinyele Dairo, senior program and technical advisor for women’s reproductive health at the U.N. Population Fund for the Africa Region, in an interview (Voice of America, July 2013).

What we already know?

Becoming a parent, at any age, can be a life-altering experience. Regardless of race, education, and socio-economic status, motherhood—and fatherhood—uniformly places demands on one’s lives that were non-existent prior to the birth of a child. When school-aged students become parents, the new responsibilities can be overwhelming. For teenage parents who lack support from their own parents, this experience can be even more daunting as they seek support in adult-oriented systems, which even older parents may find challenging.

According to a study conducted by WHO, about 16 million women 15–19 years old give birth each year, accounting for about 11% of all births worldwide. The proportion of births that take place during adolescence is about 2% in China, 18% in Latin America and the Caribbean and more than 50% in sub-Saharan Africa.

The children of teenage mothers are often born at low birth weight, experience health and developmental problems, and are frequently poor, abused, and/or neglected (Hoffman & Maynard, 2008; Martin et al., 2011; NCPTUP, 2010.).

What steps can we take?

EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION…COMPREHENSIVE SEX EDUCATION!

As a Sexpert (sexuality educator) with a focus on adolescent health, working in both schools and high risk communities, I know first-hand the benefits sex education can have on youth both male and female. Educating them on topics such as; reproductive anatomy, puberty/growth and development, body image, pregnancy prevention, available birth control options, Sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), Sexual Consent and Healthy Relationships should be a standard practice both in our schools and at home. I have facilitated and educated groups ranging from students as young as grade 4 (9 years old) all the way to senior citizens (65 plus) to high school parents on various sexual/reproductive health related topics. No matter the audience, people are empowered with knowing the facts that shape decision making.

I call these empowerment conversations and the impact stretches far beyond teenage years. As parents, we are the first educators and should see it as our duty to relay the unbiased facts around sexual health to our children especially girls. Although, resources may be few, plan a trip to your local trusted doctor, a women health facility like Marie Stopes/ Well Women clinic or perhaps a community center or a women’s health group where support could be rendered on ways to begin these conversations. Be empowered to start your own support group to discuss these issues facing our youth including teen pregnancy to get the word out to the community. As we celebrate women  through out this month, we should be aware that the total wellbeing of a human being encompasses mental, physical, spiritual and SEXUAL health.

The silence must be broken on a plan to rescue our sons and daughters from a cycle of sexual coercion, rape, stigmatization and abuse. We need to empower them with a voice to speak up when consent is not given and take ownership of their bodies. Education is the best next step so that we can live in a world that encourages bodily autonomy and individual choice for all!


 

Leanne Rizk

Leeann Rizk is a Teen Health Specialist at Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City. Before that she was a Behavioral Change Communications & Social Marketing Officer at Marie Stopes – Sierra Leone. She has a B. A. Sc in Health Care Administration & Management from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment
  1. Very nice article and very needed in africa. This would have guided many young teens to deal with the rise of teenage pregnancy during the ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. I hope that this article will bring more education to young African girls to understand sexuality more so. Hopefully parents and guardians will open communication in this subject.

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