Bih Afanwi got pregnant against her wish at the age of 16. She almost died because her body was underdeveloped and traumatized to support the growth of a foetus. “I saw the world and walls closing on me even as my strength faded out” she says “I admit I was weak in negotiating condom use with him [the boyfriend] but what if I knew they were other contraception choices – better ones I could use without negotiating with him?”.
Bih is only one among the 141 out of every 1000 girls in Cameroon who got pregnant between the age of 15 and 19. She was lucky to survive because 1 in every 31 pregnant girls die and maternal death is at its worst since 1990 (490 deaths per 100000 live births). [Countdown 2015 Report Card]
Regrettably, there are laws in Cameroon that prohibits family planning education in secondary schools. Same laws prohibit access to modern contraception without parental consent for girls below the age of 18.
The UNESCO International Technical Guidelines on Sexuality Education states that effective sexuality education can provide people with 'age appropriate, culturally relevant and scientifically correct information', and includes 'structured opportunities for young people to explore their attitudes and values, and to practice the skills they need to be able to make informed decisions about their sexual lives.
International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) confirms that looking at the evolving capacities of young people rather than their age when striking the balance between protection and autonomy gives opportunity for more young people to learn and make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive lives.
If Bih Afanwi and the 63% of girls and women with unsatisfied family planning needs in Cameron could access modern contraception education in class around their 16th birthday, the age they voluntarily started having sex, they would have had the capacity to postpone their first pregnancy and in effect reducing maternal deaths. We cannot hope to achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015 and even beyond if the most at risk population (girls aged 15-19) cannot chose if and when they should get pregnant.
Now that our legislative system has changed with the recent creation of a senate, young people are also hoping for a change in the legislation on their sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is time for our policy makers to consider girls by their evolving capacities in the legislation on sexual and reproductive rights. Sexually active girls want the rights to study modern contraception in schools and at home. They also want to make informed choices about their contraception methods. Granting them these rights now as compliments to the moral education from our cultures and religions will reduce adolescent birth rate and maternal mortality in Cameroon.