By Lahja Nashuuta
Namibia still grapples with high rate of HIV/AIDS. According to UNAIDS, 53.4 percent of all new HIV infections in Namibia occurred in the 15-29 year age group, and 60 percent of these new infections occurred among women.
The fact that the number of new HIV infections among young adolescents is still skyrocketing indicates the need to expand key interventions among the youth, especially girls between the ages of 15 and 24 to break the vicious HIV transmission cycle.
These statistics signal that HIV prevention efforts must be focused on this group. It is a fact that adolescents and young people should acquire knowledge and tools to make informed decisions regarding their personal health.
It is against this background that The Southern Times compiled a “Girl Child Real Talk” Journal. Among the objectives of the journal is to educate and guide young girls as they navigate through HIV world to make right decision as well as to pursue their dreams.
The journal seeks to educate and guide young girls as they navigate around the HIV to make right decisions as well as to pursue their dreams.
The pocket book covers issues surrounding teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, alcohol and drug abuse, peer pressure, and depression, to mention but a few.
Besides, the booklet carries success stories from very influential young people across the social spectrum in a bid to reach out to young girls. Since this is a girl child pocket book, it also contains real life stories on social issues the girl child encounters on a daily basis.
The Southern Times launched the Girl Child Real Talk Journal in Rundu in the Kavango East on June 2. About 500 girls from surrounding schools gathered at Rundu Regional Council Hall for the Girl Child Real Talk Conference.
Apart from learners – life skills teachers, school principals as well as representatives from Kavango Regional Council and Rundu Town council also attended the gathering.
The conference was held under the theme “Saving Namibia’s Girl-Child is investing in the Nation’s future”. The conference addressed the issues that are impeding girls’ education and reproduction health such as teenage pregnancy, sex and relationships, rape and sexual abuse, alcohol and substances abuse.
The get-together also witnessed the launch of “The Girl Child Real Talk Booklet”.
Information Communication Technology Minister Tjekero Tweya who was the main speaker urged stakeholders both at community and regional levels to join efforts and raise awareness on sexual and reproductive health issues among young people.
Tweya applauded The Southern Times, a weekly publication specialising in regional politics, current affairs, business, sports and arts news compiling the Girl Child Real Talk Journal.
“It is important to ensure that students know how to take precautions against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases by increasing sex education. The creation of supportive environments for pregnant students where bullying and harassment are not tolerated will help to ensure that female student drop-out rates are reduced in the country,” Minister Tweya said.
He attributes lack of information or adequate sex education in the school curriculum as one of the major contributing factors to teenage pregnancy in the country.
Tweya said most of prevention programme campaigns tend to put the blame on girls for their bad choices, without putting equal weight on boys’ responsibility.
“And when there is sex education, it puts too much emphasis on girls only, and reinforces the fact that it is the mothers that are usually blamed for teen pregnancy while the fathers often take no responsibility and get away with it,” he said.
The misuse of ICT by the youth is another cause for concern. The minister said teenagers are exposed to explicit materials on the Internet, which put them under undue pressure to become sexually active at a young age.
“It is important that as parents and society talk and provide guidance to our teenagers about sexual behaviours to prevent them in resorting to using wrong information. Not all information is useful, some are poisonous and destructive,” he said.
On his part, the Chairperson of Kavango East Regional Council, John Thighuru pointed out that the conference came at a right time when the region is faced with the problem of teenage pregnancies.
He attributed poverty; lack of parental guidance, single parenthood; child headed household; disintegration of family structure as the major contributing factor to teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS in the north eastern region.
He also censured some parents why they still shy aware from discussing sexual issues with their children, due to beliefs that it is against the African norms.
“The gender norms and expectations keep women uninformed about their bodies and sexual health. They are often denied health services, especially reproductive health care which cuts them off from treatment and information about HIV risks” Tjighuru said.
Thighuru said the statistics of teenage pregnancy in the region and that the figures and the age brackets is signal for call of action, adding that as their age, teenage girls should feel butterflies in their stomach, and not a baby kicking.