Hivos’ Program Expands SRHR Services To Street Children and Vulnerable Groups

THE Consent2Access Campaign, an advocacy initiative on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) being implemented by Hivos and its partners across Eastern and Southern Africa, has gone a step further by extending services to groups of adolescents and young people that are usually left out in a number of health programs.

By Michael Gwarisa

The program is being implemented in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe as part of the regional SRH Funds Advocacy campaign aimed at promoting progressive laws, policies and practices that can ensure adolescent and young people access to SRH information and services.

Speaking in an interview with HealthTimes on the side-lines of an Age of Consent (AoC) Media meeting in Harare, Nana Zulu, the Hivos Program Manager for the Regional SRR Fund said they had generated evidence through various contextual analysis in the focus countries where they gathered that Age of Consent requirements form a larger barrier to adolescent access to information and particularly services.

I should say that adolescents and young people are generally an underserved population but we also want to ensure that we also recognising adolescents and young people that are most marginalized and underserved.

“In that vein, we are including adolescents and youths living on the streets, adolescents and young people living with HIV, adolescents and youths with disabilities among all the different cohorts. Young people are not a homogeneous group and defiantly even the kind of information and services that they needs to be properly programmed and targeted, given the different kind of discrimination or marginalization that they actually face,” said Zulu.

She added that street children were at greater risk of getting pregnant and contracting HIV due to absence of social safety nets and basic amenities such as housing, food among others. Under the Consent2Access campaign, Zulu says they will be working with various stakeholders which include parents, religious and traditional leaders, policy makers and most importantly government line ministries to create an enabling environment with progressive laws, policies and practices that support adolescent access to information and services

“This is important because the statistics nationally and regionally is showing us that young people are a majority of our populations and also the SRH statistics showing us that young people are engaging in sexual activity much earlier, there is high incidence of teen pregnancies and also high rates of HIV infections among young people, so we cannot wait until these things happen. We need to intervene earlier, that’s why we need to ensure we have an enabling social and policy environment that allows that to happen so that we prevent these vices from happening at a later stage.”

Hivos is working with line ministries on health, education and social welfare and all 
existing governmental structures in terms of reaching to constituencies of young people 
and also using structures to better program for the information and services that 
young people need.

HIVOS consultant, Innocent Yekeye said there is need to raise awareness and ensure stakeholder can differentiate between the age of consent to marry and age of consent to access health services.

“We need to acknowledge that people below the age of 18 are having sex. Once we acknowledge that, we need to make sure that we have provisions to allow people below the age of 18 to be able to access services that they require.

“That is why we are advocating for the separating of this discussion around the age of consent for marriage and the age of consent to access services. We propose following a rights-based approach in legislation, making it clear that any adolescents — no matter their status or background — has a right to access SRHR service and information,” said Yekeye.

Meanwhile, there have been numerous petitions to Parliament to have the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) amend Section 35 of the current Public Health Act of 2018 which limits the age to accessing Reproductive Health Care Services to 16 years.



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