Can Someone Else Be Responsible For Your Health Who Isn’t You?
“I will like to have 3 kids when I grow up. Two boys and a girl. I don’t want to have plenty so I can train them well.” Tolu said with a tug on her long hair.
Cynthia looked up from her desk on which she was drawing her cartoons. “I also want 3 kids, but in my own case, 2 girls and a boy. Boys are troublesome.” Shola, the bolder one among the group did not quite agree. “Chicken hearted fellows. As for me, I would love to have as many children as possible. After all, children are gifts from God. The means to take care of them will come. What do you think Tonia? Tonia, can you hear me?”
Tonia looked up with a start. “What did you say?”
Shola cast her a quizzical look, “I said I would love to have many kids unlike Tolu and Cynthia who want to have just three. What do you have to say?” she concluded with a wave of her hands displaying her bright pink painted fingernails.
Tonia smiled sadly. Her mind had drifted off when Tolu began to talk about having kids. The resolve had formed in her mind when she was 9 and even now, 7 years later, she wasn’t about to change her mind.
Her mother’s aunt had raised her. Her mum, a woman she never met had gotten pregnant in secondary school, and her parents, furious with her, had thrown her out of the house. She was just 18. Filled with shame, she had taken up a job as a house help with an average income family and was given the corridor to sleep at night. Nine months later while in labor, she gave the name and address of her mum’s sister as her relative. She died a few days later, leaving little Tonia in the hands of her aunt, who is currently the only parent Tonia’s knows.
How would she begin to explain all these to her friends, with just few minutes left to the end of recess? No, she won’t tell them, and no, she didn’t want to have kids.
Reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes. Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so (WHO)
More than a quarter of the world’s population is between the ages of 10 and 24, with 86% living in less developed countries. Nearly one third of Nigeria’s population of 183 million+ is between the ages of 10 and 24. Nigerian young people’s sizeable share of the population makes them integral to the country’s social, political and economic development. Nigeria’s development maybe compromised by the sexual and reproductive health issues afflicting its youthful population. These young people are today’s parents. The reproductive and sexual health decisions they make will affect the health and wellbeing of their communities and of their country for decades to come.
In particular, two issues have a profound impact on young people’s sexual health and reproductive health- family planning and HIV/AIDS. Teenage girls are more likely to die from preventable pregnancy-related health complications than older women in their 20s.
Lack of age appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and services make young people vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDS and unintended pregnancy. Speaking on the topic, writer and blogger, Irene Ibiwari Ikiriko had this to say: “Reproductive health in Nigeria is not something we are concerned about until it’s time to birth children. Right from puberty — the beginning of adolescence is when individuals should be educated on certain things that may appear wrong or right with their bodies. These are things we leave until time to birth offspring. No one deems it valid to see a gynaecologist until there is a suspected problem. At this time, we need to raise awareness and need for youth to run regular checkups with their reproductive health representatives.”
When asked who should be held responsible for the reproductive health of adolescents and youth, she said, “Can someone else be responsible for your health who isn’t you? Of course, it’s the ones most affected by it who should be responsible for it.” On how government laws affect these young people, she opined, “More brute punishments should be meted against sex offenders, molesters, rapists, pedophiles etc. Reproductive health should be taught as a course in schools.”
Adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health must be supported. This means providing access to comprehensive sexuality education; friendly services to prevent, diagnose and treat STIs and HIV/AIDS; and counseling and provision of family planning services. It also means empowering young people to know and exercise their rights – including the right to delay marriage and the right to refuse unwanted sexual advances.