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A cry for change

December 18th, 2005

Dr Petra

Children and teenagers in Lesotho, South Africa have been putting their recommendations for health and social care to the government.

Their wise words are well worth listening to. Here’s a selection for you to consider:

Seboka, an 18-year-old girl outlined her ideas for overcoming HIV/AIDS.
“As young people we feel that we deserve full access to education, protection and health care services. We acknowledge and appreciate the efforts that the government has taken to ensure that every child has access to education through the Free Primary Education programme; access to post primary education through the Ministry of Education’s bursary scheme to meet the needs of orphans and vulnerable children who also benefit from the recently introduced programme on loaning text books to students. The Government must now ensure that education becomes compulsory, that every child MUST stay in school especially considering the vulnerability of children nowadays and how easy it is for an orphan to drop out.

Most young people don’t have access to sexual health advice, condoms and other forms of contraception, or voluntary counseling and testing. Too often young people are deliberately deprived of these life saving services and information because adults deny that sexuality is a normal and healthy aspect of growing up. Reproductive health services are seldom geared towards the needs of young people, who therefore tend to avoid them, putting themselves and their partners at huge risk of HIV infection.

We request that youth friendly services should inform young people about their sexual and reproductive health rights and provide wider access to voluntary counseling and testing. Health services should be affordable, cater for minor or unmarried youth, offer low-cost or free condoms and provide treatment for sexually transmitted infections. We also recommend that health services must offer privacy and should guarantee confidentiality. More flexible opening hours (to cater for young people who work and study) would make a difference. Cost effective and affordable care should be made accessible to all young people with HIV/AIDS and HIV related illnesses at all levels. Good nutrition habits should continue to be promoted, including information on vitamins and minerals by health care givers.

WE WANT FREE VOLUNTARY COUNSELLING AND TESTING AND ANTIRETROVIRALS FOR ALL – HIV/AIDS OUT!”

I think practitioners and policymakers elsewhere in the world could also learn a lot from Seboka.

Other useful ideas were presented by 16-year-old Daniel and 17-year-old Nthite who outlined how to overcome abuse and exploitation that children and teenagers face.

Daniel:
“As we all know, several children and youth are subjected to violence, in their home, school or work place..…The first one is violence towards child domestic workers and herd-boys. To support their selves or their families, some children have to find jobs [or are rented out by their relatives to other households in order to contribute], mostly as domestic workers or herd boys. They are often abused in their work environments, sexually and/or physically. This is still taking place even though it has been stated that the child has the right to be protected from work that threatens his/her health, education or development and the minimum age of employment set by the Government being 18 years of age”

Nthithe:
“I will be talking about Child Domestic Workers. These are children who are engaged to perform domestic tasks in a home of the third party or employer. The ages in which children become domestic workers in Lesotho range from 13-18. These children due to pressure get so desperate to become commercial sex workers due to demands by the family or employers. Some young boys and girls are vulnerable and employers take advantage of these vulnerable kids and as a result sexual abuse occurs.

A recent example of sexual abuse was a 15 year old orphaned boy who lives in Mazenod was raped by his school teachers this year. The Sexual Offences Act came into effect in April 2003. The purpose of the law is to combat such sexual violence, protect these orphaned and vulnerable children and proscribe appropriate sentences for sexual offences.

We request that the Government should have an obligation to ensure that child victims of torture, neglect, abuse, maltreatment or exploitation receive appropriate treatment for their recovery and reintegration.

We request the Government to protect all children from all forms of maltreatment by parents, guardians or others responsible for the care of the child and establish appropriate social programmes for the prevention of abuse and the treatment of victims.

For herd boys due to family pressures they herd animals and at the end of the year they get 1 or 2 of the animals they were herding. This is exploiting the child. Why can’t the father do it, or relative and the child stay at school?”

Within the West we tend to assume children and teenagers are able to articulate their needs and have them acted upon. Sadly this isn’t often true – particularly in relation to sex education. Within the developing world inequalities in child education are even more marked”.

It’s important that we listen to young people as well as enabling them to share their insights and suggestions, and also act upon their advice.

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