Johannesburg — Caroline had just completed her high school education when she found out that she was six months pregnant. But her boyfriend abandoned her and she found she was no longer welcome in her parents' home. She had to put her dreams on hold and focus her efforts on raising her child.
Caroline's story will resonate with many young women and adolescent girls in East and Southern Africa.
"When a young girl gets pregnant, it means the system has failed her. We have failed her," said Hubert Gijzen, Regional Director and Representative for UNESCO Southern Africa, at the launch of the 'Let's Talk!' Campaign on early and unintended pregnancy in Johannesburg on 31 July.
The campaign partners include UNESCO, SAfAIDS and Save the Children Sweden. Mr. Gijzen emphasized how accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and timely comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) can change the trajectory of adolescent girls' lives.
Another mitigating factor for early and unintended pregnancy is education. "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world," stressed Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education in South Africa. She quoted the late President Nelson Mandela, as she insisted on the need to protect young people from early and unintended pregnancies.
Central to the campaign are regional advocates, who shared stories of how they have directly or indirectly experienced early or unintended pregnancy. As one of the voices of the campaign, Caroline is now championing the SRHR of adolescent girls in Kenya by ensuring that they receive timely and accurate information.
If young people in East and Southern Africa, who account for 32 per cent of the region's total population, are to fulfil their potential they must be healthy, educated and empowered. This is the commitment that UNFPA works towards.
"We come to this matter with a sense of urgency. We have to do more and we have to commit to ending early and unintended pregnancies," said Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa. "Only by investing in girls will we be able to create an inclusive society and economy, and harness the demographic dividend for Africa."
The regional Let's Talk! Campaign will be rolled out at country level over the coming weeks. Ahead of the Nairobi Summit, such interventions are key to fulfilling the Programme of Action of the International Population Conference on Development (ICPD).