By Chancy Namadzunda:
Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) has channelled USD6 million funding through the Government of Malawi, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to support a joint programme titled ‘Action for Teen mothers and Adolescent girls’. The four-year programme will be implemented in Mchinji and Dedza districts.
Malawi has one of the highest rates of early pregnancy in the sub-region. By the age of 18, 47 percent of girls are already in marriage and 29 percent of girls aged 15-19 have begun child bearing, which is contributing 25 percent of all pregnancies annually. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation and the funding from KOICA has come at an opportune time.
Through the ‘Action for Teen mothers and Adolescent girls’, UNFPA will support efforts to sustain and increase adolescent girls’ to access quality, consistent, and integrated youth -friendly sexual and reproductive health information. The services, include family planning, improved menstrual hygiene management, and gender based violence prevention and response at health facilities and in the communities.
UNFPA will also strengthen the knowledge, ability and leadership of teen mothers and adolescent girls for decision making through the safe spaces. The safe spaces will provide mentorship and mutual social support networks among the girls.
“The impact of COVID-19 on the youth, especially adolescent girls, has been devastating. Statistics paint a grave picture especially on cases of teenage pregnancies and child marriages as well as heightened risk of gender based violence. There is a danger that advances made could stall or even reverse in the absence of urgent interventions,” said UNFPA Representative, Won Young Hong during the signing ceremony on Wednesday in Lilongwe.
“We are therefore grateful to KOICA for the timely funding as it will allow us to, among other things, create a free, safe and enabling environment for the protection and empowerment of the most vulnerable, and availing reproductive health and rights for teen mothers and adolescent girls.”
FAO will join the efforts through economic empowerment of adolescent girls in targeted districts, initiate Farmer Field and Life Schools for mentors, adolescent girls in safe spaces and boys and young men in the youth clubs to address both the short- and long-term economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his remarks, Chen Zhijun FAO Representative said: The Farmer Field and Life School approach will be adopted for this component because it is particularly tailored towards providing safe spaces for vulnerable segments of communities.
“With this project FAO’s focus will be on improving the capacity of agriculture extension workers to mainstream tailored activities for empowering teen mothers and adolescent girls, said Zhijun. “We will also work to increase entrepreneurial and life skills to raise income levels of adolescent girls through the learning activities that holistically blend agriculture, entrepreneurial skills, life skills and social animation.”
Ministry of Youth and Sports will be the lead Ministry among other ministries in the implementation of this project. Principal Secretary in the Ministry, Mr. Oliver Kumbambe said the future of Malawi is the hands of young people today hence the need to invest in youth, especially adolescent girls and young women.
“We are encouraged as a Ministry on behalf of other Ministries to coordinate implementation of a programme that not only addresses adolescent girls’ access to quality, consistent, and integrated youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services but also integrates and focuses on ensuring the economic empowerment of adolescent girls whilst creating a free, safe and enabling environment for the protection and empowerment of the most vulnerable adolescent girls and teen mother.”
Action for Teen mothers and Adolescent girls will benefit 647,900 adolescent girls between 10-24 years. These include teen mothers, pregnant, married, out-of-school, HIV positive and those with specific vulnerabilities making them at high risk of becoming mothers during adolescence.
The Joint Programme will seek to build on progress towards realising national and global commitments to realise sexual and reproductive health and rights for all and advance gender equality, particularly to end all GBV and harmful practices against women and girls by 2030.