• Reproductive health is exemplified using effective contraception and access to maternal and infant care.
• Contraception is simply about the individual’s ability to determine how many children, when, and with who
Africa’s unassailable advantage, in the long run, is the incredible promise of its youthful population.
Africa’s median age is estimated at 19.7 years and is projected to increase modestly to 24.8 years by 2050. Moreover, the population of the continent’s youth will rise to about 450 million by 2050.
Africa’s demographic surge is both a source of hope and despair. Hope because, if they are provided with opportunity through access to health, education, are free from poverty, hunger and malnutrition, Africa’s youth could fuel durable and equitable prosperity. Despair because, without equitable access to opportunity, Africa’s desperate youth could ignite social and political instability and set off a vicious spiral of intergenerational poverty.
There is no doubt that Africa’s fertility rates are in decline. In 1970, Africa’s fertility rate was estimated at 6.7 per cent. Today fertility rates are about 4.4 per cent. More can, and must, be done to reduce Africa’s fertility rate. Improved reproductive health holds the key to achieving this important goal.
Reproductive health is exemplified using effective contraception and access to maternal and infant care. Contraception is simply about the individual’s ability to determine how many children, when, and with who. How many children, and when to have them, must be a fundamental right of every young Kenyan.
By choosing how many children, and when to have them, is, for instance, inextricably bound with the ability of an adolescent girl, to stay and complete high school and perhaps obtain a college education.
Reproductive health choices are unfailing predictors of critical outcomes for children, households, communities and nations. For example, infants born to adolescent mothers are likely to be born premature, face higher risk of dying, and face an inordinate risk of malnutrition, as well as low mental and physical development.
Moreover, adolescent mothers are likely to drop out of school without a chance to complete high school. Economic opportunities are limited to young mothers without a high school education, which forms the beginning of intractable intergenerational poverty traps, which then reproduce and perpetrate patterns of teen pregnancies, low education attainment, early marriage, gender inequality and poverty.
Africa’s demographic moment must descend from the lofty cloud of potential and walk on the hard terrain that is defined by the paralysing neglect of the sexual and reproductive health of hundreds of millions of young women. Africa will not harness the demographic moment if young women are denied their reproductive rights. The goals of gender equity and reduced inequality will remain a distant, unattainable mirage if a woman cannot choose when and how many children she will have.
A study by #formnigani –Young Kenyan Voices: Covid-19 and Contraception– revealed worrying gaps in sexual and reproductive healthcare services. About two in five Kenyan youth have experienced disruption in services.
We must address the health service related factors that rob young women of their reproductive rights. These factors include lack of comprehensive sexuality education; misconception of contraception; lack of access to contraception services; lack of adolescent reproductive health services; and inadequate and unskilled adolescent health workers.
Alex O. Awiti is Vice Provost at Aga Khan University. The views expressed are the writer’s