By Amatesiro Dore
Not much, if any, is provided for adolescents in this part of the world. Naturally, society will say but we pay school fees, buy clothes and even sell our conscience for the safety and enjoyment of our wards and children. We did everything for you, Parents tell their oblivious successors and ill-prepared heirs who cannot be themselves and function at their optimum as a result of a deficiency in their knowledge about their sexual reproductive rights, identities and values, and the dearth of capacity building programmes that can direct and develop the free movements of their thoughts during years of puberty-intelligence, creative exuberance and other budding abilities.
Yet adolescence shapes the rest of our existence as humans in this planet. Our adulthood is moulded and formed during adolescence. It’s a period of positive and negative occurrences, when many fail for the first time, a stage for the assertion of one’s individuality or acceptance of societal norms, a time to ask life questions and receive truths; the period for rampant abuse fuelled by ignorance, peer pressure and indoctrinations.
As regarding sexual and reproductive rights, in the absence of accurate information and education, adolescence is the period when the body usually becomes ripe for self-exploration, abuse and lasting damages. It’s an era when neurons and hormones are clashing swords and creating sparks. A time that also provides a great opportunity to learn life competency skills, how-to-stay-alive formulas and how to exist as global citizens who enjoy the same international standards of living—such as ensuring our fundamental human rights are applicable to every man irrespective of gender, race, sexuality, religion or adherence to none, abilities or lack of excellence, class, tribe, values or lack of any, needs or wealth, language or incoherence, and every other distinctions and differences.
At our little corner, Increse, in the State with the largest land mass in Nigeria, we are doing our best to pluck as many adolescents as we can from the backwardness of our national indexes and global developmental indicators in a State without a budget for adolescent health. Yes, we understand that adolescence is also a period where the worst of childhood sicknesses, infections and contaminations have receded and the repercussions of a badly-informed adolescence has not turned into a full blown mid-life crisis. However, habits are formed and the dangerous ones would result into unplanned pregnancies, STIs, STDs, seeds of infertility, later-day cervical cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, strictures, unsafe abortions, low self-esteem, peer-pressured insanities and lifetime injuries which hamper the sustained creativity, re-invention and positive metamorphosis of every civilisation.
At Abuja, in April 2001, leaders of African Union countries met and pledged to set a target of allocating at least fifteen percent of their annual budget to improve the health of their citizens and residents. Last year, the States and Federal Government of Nigeria allocated a mere four percent of their combined budget to healthcare. Just as our healthcare system has been outsourced to hospitals in foreign countries, the funding for most adolescent healthcare programmes comes from western donor countries and organisations. As a people, we have neglected the mental, sexual and social development of our adolescents; hence the lack of ingenuity and originality in their ambitions and decisions. We are raising a copy-cat generation, ignorant of their individual excellence and unappreciative of their diversity and uniqueness.
As a sexual and reproductive rights organisation, Increse is dedicated to developing and empowering the adolescents in our host city, Minna. However we can only do as much as our funding permits. Our plans are only implemented based on the strength of our volunteers, programme officers, grants and donor partners. We are a bucket scooping adolescent Nigerians from the well of national blindness and unplanned destinies. And we hope to continue this work as long as sustainable. Yet the greatness of our work pales in comparison to the enormity of the challenges, lack of government support and funding, and the lack of capacity or nonchalance of most parents and guardians.
The work of non-governmental organisations is to bridge gaps, fill up lacunas and ensure that none is left out of a functional system. But when there is nothing on ground except the efforts of NGOs and donor partners, how can we safeguard our future as Nigerians living in Nigeria? Our people say it takes a village to raise a child. The fact remains that we require all hands on board – governments, NGOs, donor-partners et al – in order to safeguard the health and development of our adolescents. Society must be pro-active and preemptive in their approaches. We must continue to provide behavioural change programmes, promote initiatives such as free sanitary pads and condoms, and implement a comprehensive sexuality education. Governments cannot do everything but they can look at groups and organisations that have done much with the little they have received and seek to support and endorse their programmes and initiatives.
Adolescents may seem like a population of people with the most perfect health yet they are the most vulnerable members of society that are most susceptible to lifetime harm and damages. Let us protect and safeguard our adolescents. They are the emerging leaders and the future of our nation. They have survived childhood. Now let us ensure that they grow up with the right information and training, and they shall in turn enjoy growing up and developing our society with their bright new ideas and inventions.