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LILONGWE, Malawi“Many young people are making wrong choices because information about sexual and reproductive health is not easily available,” said youth activist Jenifer Sani. “Even when the services are available, young people are normally viewed with suspicion, which makes them shy away from accessing them.”

She was speaking during a panel discussion organised by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) on 14 August

Ms. Sani was one of more than a thousand youths who marked the official launch of ICPD25 – Road to Nairobi with calls for more engagement and better reproductive health services. The launch, on World Youth Day, presented a platform for youth to interact with leaders from the UN, academic sector, government as well as the private sector.

Malawi is on track to achieve the 1994 ICPD commitments, said Minister of Health Jappie Mhango, but more needs to be done to ensure that women and girls have access to reproductive services and rights.

“In the area of reproductive rights and reproductive health, although maternal mortality ratio is still high, it has reduced from 984 (deaths per 100,000 live births) in 2004 to 439 per 100,000 in 2017,” he said. The government has developed policies to address reproductive issues, he added.

Despite Malawi'progress, the majority of youth are yet to enjoy full reproductive health choices. This has seen a spike in teen pregnancies, which is usually associated with child marriages, an increase in girls dropping out of school and a rise in HIV infection rate.

Despite Malawi's progress, the majority of youth are yet to enjoy full reproductive health choices.

“We need our voices and ideas to be taken seriously. Otherwise our rights to better sexual reproductive health services will never be respected,” said Thoko Makawa (20) from Lilongwe, adding, “Currently, many young people are dropping out of school because of teen pregnancies. This couldn’t have been the case if they had access to reproductive information and services.”

We need more information and better sexual
reproductive services said Jenifer Sani. ©UNFPA Malawi

Delegates from a cross section of society invited to the ICDP25 launch seemed to agree with the youths’ sentiments. Speaking during a panel discussion, the Resident Representative for UNFPA in Malawi, Young Hong said despite Malawi making considerable gains over the past 25 years, the country still has a long way to go to live up to the promise of Cairo.

“Too many young people continue to be left behind and too many are still unable to enjoy their rights,” she told the jam packed hall. The cost of inaction is simply too high.

“If we don’t act now, more women and girls will die, there will be more unintended pregnancies, more unsafe abortions and more pregnant girls shamed out of school. Consequently, the potential of individuals and societies will be squandered.”

- Joseph Scott