By Edward Makuzva
UNICEF launched Nothing for Us, without Us a communication campaign on adolescents (10 to 19 years) which will run from October to December 2023.
The campaign works to expand and protect access to quality, gender-equitable education, and to improve student participation and learning.
The campaign comes at a time when the country is seized with containing high teenage pregnancies and child marriages as well as the incidence of HIV amongst adolescents.
Addressing to media at the launch, Wednesday in the capital, UNICEF Zimbabwe country representative ,Dr Tajudeen Oyewale added that the campaign highlights the situation of adolescents, their power as actors of change in communities and the programme work done by UNICEF the government and their partners.
Zimbabwe is home to over 1 million child brides, with 1 in 3 young women having been married in childhood; 47 per cent of adolescents are out of school in Zimbabwe. All of these deprivations impede adolescent development, especially the cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioural capacities that support health and well-being.
Dr Oyewale added that they are addressing gaps in data to build evidence that drives action where it is most needed. With Governments and other partners, UNICEF works to strengthen health care, education and protection systems to ensure critical supplies and services reach the last mile, even in emergencies.
“We advocate for adolescents’ rights at the national level, while locally engaging families and communities often through programmes that change behaviours and social norms.
“For the next three months, UNICEF is going to be focussing on highlighting the work we do with children and adolescents. The intent is to give more voice to them. The intent is to deliberately show the culture of listening, partnering and working together,” Dr Oyewale explained.
Adolescents in Zimbabwe face multiple deprivations, including poverty, high rates of adolescent pregnancies, child marriages, maternal deaths, physical and sexual violence, HIV infection, school dropout and limited engagement and participation opportunities in matters that affect their lives and their families. All of these impede adolescent development, especially the cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioural capacities that support health and well-being.
The country has made progress in addressing matters affecting adolescents. Notable accomplishments include the recent passing of the Marriages Act, which prohibits the marriage of minors under the age of 18. The Education Amendment Act has provisions for school retention for pregnant girls and adolescent mothers, free primary education, abolishment of corporal punishment,, and free sanitary wear for girls in primary and secondary schools.
The country has a Youth Policy and Strategy which prioritises participation and economic development, including skills development for employability.
Speaking at the same occasion, UNICEF Zimbabwe chief for HIV/AIDS and Adolescent Development and Participation Jacqueline Kabambe highlighted that adolescents are being left out in programs that promote adolescent development.
Kabande revealed that care and support they receive, the services they can access, the social norms that guide their communities and the extent to which they can influence decisions that affect them all make a difference.
“Investing in adolescents strengthens their ability to advance human rights and build a bright future for themselves, their families and entire countries.Investing in adolescents builds strong economies, inclusive communities and vibrant societies.
“Twenty-two percent of adolescent girls ages 15 to 19 have begun childbearing, one third of the maternal deths are among adolescents 10 -19; there are over 85000 adolescents 10-19 living with HIV; 4.1 percent of girls aged 13-17 experience sexual violence; Zimbabwe is home to over 1 million child brides, with one in three young women having been married in childhood; 47 percent of adolescents are out of school in Zimbabwe.
“All these deprivations impede adolescent development, especially the cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioural capacities that support health and well-being,” said Kabambe.
Kabande highlighted that since adolescents represent the country’s future, one of the most important commitments a country can make for future economic, social and political progress is to address their developmental needs.
“Early adolescence, between the ages of 10 and 14, is a particular age when enduring healthy behaviour patterns can be developed. Developing healthy habits from the start is more accessible than changing risky behaviours that are already entrenched”, She said.
A member of the UNICEF Youth Advisory Committee, Hazel Mandaza said adolescents with disabilities, they have been facing challenges with accessing Sexual Reproductive Health services.
Meanwhile, statistics revealed that Zimbabwe has a total population of 15.2 million, of which 1.8 million are adolescents between 10 and 19 years old.