By Constance Ndeleko
Child well-being means we take adequate measures to ensure that even adolescent health is incorporated in our planning and advocacy works.
During a children forum hosted by Mtoto News adolescents converged to speak on issues affecting their health and well-being in the society. They gave recommendation that should be included to ensure that they are not left behind.
Adolescence- is the phase of life between childhood and adulthood, from ages 10 to 19. It is a unique stage of human development and an important time for laying the foundations of good health.(WHO)
What is Adolescent Health?
Adolescent health encompasses changing transitions within multiple domains, including the physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and intellectual. The fast-paced development of these different domains can lead to phenomenal growth during this period. This growth can also occur at different rates, which can put adolescents at a higher risk for risk-taking behaviors and emerging mental health issues. It is important to understand adolescent development, environmental influences, and the risk and protective factors that can affect adolescent health so that organizations and individuals who work with youth can support the health and healthy development of all adolescents.(YOUTH.GOV)
What health challenges do adolescents face?
Speaking during the forum, children identified issues affecting their health and well-being either in school or in the community as documented below.
Omar, 15 years: Mental health is a great challenge within this phase and most of us feel that we are slightly neglected and not understood. It is a different stage where a lot of changes are happening. The neglect not only happens at home but also at school with teachers. Most of them think that we are being difficult and we want to be rebellious. Thus, we lack proper counselling and mentorship. In regards to this, adolescents feel left out and they tend to engage in bad behaviors and indiscipline acts like burning schools. Sometimes it is difficult for us to speak about our issues most boys engage in masturbation leading to destruction of the reproduction system and causing erectile imbalance.
Sarah, 14 years: Most adolescent spend their time online either on social media or watching videos online. Access to technology and neglect from caregivers; has given adolescent freedom to engage into harmful activities online because no one care to see what they are doing. In this case, most have turned into watching pornographic content or they are being groomed into online sexual exploitation activities thus affecting their well-being. Sometimes even parents do not understand this ever changing technology and they can’t keep up with the trends anymore so, they let their children be or do what they want to do especially during this pandemic period.
Manga, 16 years: Adolescents are faced by numerous health challenges every day; Depression, Lack of confidence and expression, Lack of sanitary ware and hygiene in schools, Lack of security- forces adolescents to lack mental peace in school, at home and in the community. Some girls are subjected into harsh condition making them prone to abuse which may also lead to rape, HIV/AIDS, Homosexuality, mental health, early pregnancies and lack of medical personnel in schools and deficit of medical infrastructure influence adolescent issues.
Even as they discuss these issues, we cannot ignore the fact that technology has highly improved our lives. Regardless to embracing the fourth revolution, it has come with multiple challenges which are adversely impacting the lives of adolescents and greatly impacting their health e.g. Online bullying, OCSE and the need to live up to society’s expectations online.
How ca we solve some of the mentioned issues?
In regards to finding solutions to help adolescent mental health care they suggested a number of solution for to be implemented by the NGOs and the governments.
Michael: Government should provide better health care facilities for easy accessibility by children and members of the society. Even with the state of the pandemic where the cases are rising and few facilities to hospitalize the sick.
They further elaborated that; Provision of cheaper medication for people infected by HIV/AIDS was crucial as we also have adolescents suffering from the virus.
Malaria was also defined as an ongoing challenge and the government could provide mosquito nets or repellants to students to help reduce the number of children contacting the disease.
NGOs were highlighted by this particular group to have a better opportunity to provide online support on health related issues- Adolescents can be taught about puberty and other related issues through creation of community based groups or school groups. Governments should provide online platform that will help boost self-confidence and speak out on issues affecting adolescents.
The government can enhance quality basic education for us to stand with our own principles and make right decisions. In schools we should be taught about sexual reproduction health and we can protect ourselves.
They also mentioned that, ‘NGOs can also create mentorship programs for parents to stop neglecting their children. However, it is not applicable to every child but it is your responsibility to confront your parents on issues affecting you. Be brave enough to walk to them and talk to them or seek children officers. As adolescent we need to set our own parameters to protect ourselves and not engage in sexual exploitation.’
As teenagers we require security to be protected and to protect our mental well-being. The government need to protect children especially in conflict affected zones like Mandera. Children should also report on intended attacks. NGOs can provide advice on security issues to be able to protect the society.
What can be done in the community?
Children in particular forum suggested the following towards improving their health in the community:
Enhancing nyumba kumi initiative, fund raising to support issues affecting children, medical camps should be in close proximity, community by-laws to ensure protection, improve hygiene and sanitation, community clean up, setting up accessible health facility, implement laws to ensure children receive medical attention, ensure vaccination for community health adherence, increase awareness on health care, community counsellors, improve the quality of treatment, create platform for participation, teach parents and children on sexual education, drugs, peer pressure, school dropout due to early pregnancy, sickness and neglect, mental health issues, spiritual and emotional issues.
Homosexuality was highly mentioned and they deemed it as an important issue that should be addressed-hormonal imbalance should be address under health issues and mass education.
The government, schools and community should take care of the food given to children. It should be a balanced diet, they should also ensure availability of water and sanitation, delayed treatment at school is also a challenge which should be looked into.
Most adolescent face; Peer Pressure and they are influenced into drugs abuse and peddling, or making negative decision and watching bad videos and sneaking out of school.
Mental health should be prioritized in schools and in the community and children should be included in decision making processes.
I believe that empowering children to speak about issues affecting them is a way of scaling up our child protection mission, advocacy and it will enhance our planning as we include them in the decision making processes. More of these platforms should be introduced both online and offline to ensure inclusivity at community and school level.