Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Family Planning: It’s Time to Empower the Next Generation

August 11, 2013

Across East Africa, the majority of young adolescents are living without choice. With little or no access to modern contraceptives and family planning education, they lack the ability to choose when to become pregnant and even how many children to have. This lack of choice can have devastating consequences for their future life. 

Consider Maureen’s story:

Maureen is a young girl aged 12 living in Uganda. Naturally she doesn’t talk about sex with her parents. As in many other cultures, sex is strictly taboo, which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the high incidence of teenage pregnancies, infant and maternal death rates, and rise in HIV infections that plague her community. One day her period starts. Too ashamed to return to school, she drops out and begins hanging around with a local group from her neighbourhood. Without access to contraceptives, she soon becomes pregnant. Due to her young age, complications arise during delivery and although her baby survives, she develops an obstetric fistula causing her to involuntary leak urine and faeces. Shunned from the community, she remains indoors until her family eventually tire of her and she is cast out to fend for herself.

Fortunately, due to the intervention of global initiatives such as FP2020, and the work of organisations like DSW (Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung) in Eastern Africa, this situation is gradually changing for the better. More and more young people are making better and more informed decisions and choices – in other words, they are taking control over their lives.

Let’s consider Maureen’s story after DSW’s involvement in her district:

Maureen is a young girl aged 12 living in Uganda. Due to the intervention of DSW’s “Young Adolescents Project” in the region which aimed at removing barriers faced by young adolescents (10 to 14 years) in accessing age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health and rights information; her parents, teachers, and community leaders maintain an open and honest atmosphere when it comes to sex education, especially given the high incidence of teenage pregnancies, infant and maternal death rates, and HIV infections that once plagued their community. Maureen is introduced to the topic at a young age, has all her questions answered, and knows how to avoid an unintended pregnancy. She is prepared for her period and is not ashamed when it starts. She remains in school and passes with good grades enabling her to go to university. When she is ready, she decides how many children she would like to have. Her future is bright and open.

To give the next generation a chance, it is never too late to start or too early to begin. I know which scenario I would prefer see happen.

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