The Government of Liberia in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has launched a 4-year program aimed to reduce teenage pregnancies in the Southeastern counties.
According to an UNFPA statement, the Swedish Government funded “Empowered and Fulfilled Program” will complement other ongoing reproductive health, gender and livelihood related projects supported by UN agencies in Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru, Maryland and River Gee counties.
The program is expected to build on achievements made at both national and targeted county levels on young people’s sexual reproductive health and rights. The program seeks to contribute to a reduction in teenage pregnancies through supporting increased access and utilization of sexual reproductive health and family planning information and services by adolescents.
The implementation of the program will, accordingly, be led by line ministries including Health; Gender, Children and Social Protection; Education; Youth and Sports; and Internal Affairs. It will be in collaboration with the Planned Parenthood Association of Liberia (PPAL), Action Aid Liberia, Federation of Liberia
Youth (FLY), Inter–Religious Council of Liberia, National Traditional Council of Liberia and BRAC-Liberia.
Speaking at the official launch on February 24 in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, the head of Development Cooperation and Chargé d’Affaires at the Swedish Embassy, Ms. Elisabeth Harleman, said adolescent girls and boys need access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services, especially outside the urban areas, if there must be a reduction in the rate of teenage pregnancies in the country.
According to Ms. Harleman, discussing sexuality for and with young girls and boys is still considered difficult, with few information, education and communication outlets involving young people themselves.
“Sweden’s global experience from supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights shows that in order for young people to be able to take advantage of education and work, and to contribute to economic growth, young people must be given the opportunity free of coercion, violence, discrimination or the risk of becoming involuntarily pregnant or being infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sexual life,” she said.
She lauded local authorities, traditional leaders as well as key stakeholders from the four southeastern counties for their support for the program.
On behalf of his colleagues, Grand Gedeh County Superintendent Peter L. Solo declared that local authorities would work collaboratively to ensure the reduction in teenage pregnancies in the southeastern region.
“Our traditional and religious leaders will be the principal mechanisms that we will use to go into our communities to establish and reinforce the need for collaborative efforts in reducing teenage pregnancies in the region,” Superintendent Solo declared.
He called on the youth to join the process of educating their peers – discouraging them against early pregnancy.
“We must all sensitize the people and discourage teen pregnancies so that the girls can have a better education and fulfilled lives,” the Superintendent said.
The launch followed a tour and the holding of inception meetings with a cross-section of traditional and local leaders and community members in the region. The meetings, which were led by the various line ministries, were aimed at understanding factors responsible for early pregnancies, barriers to SRH (sexual and reproductive health) by adolescents in the region as well as deriving local solutions to the issue.
Among key issues identified by the people were: poor parental guidance and care; sexual abuse of adolescent girls by their teachers and influential community members; and the lack of sexuality education in schools and in the homes between parents and their children.
They stressed the need for sexuality education in schools and the provision of family planning services with ease of access and the reinforcement of the justice system to punish perpetrators of violence against teenage girls and sex offenders, especially adults who impregnate underage girls.