Lilongwe, Malawi — On the 14th of August, more than a thousand youths thronged the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) to mark the official launch of ICPD25 - Road to Nairobi with calls for more engagement and better reproductive health services.
"Many young people are making wrong choices because information about sexual reproductive health is not easily available," said Jenifer Sani, a youth activist during a panel discussion at the University organised by UNFPA. "Even when the services are available, young people are normally viewed with suspicion, which make them shy away from accessing them."
The launch, which coincided with the commemoration of the World Youth Day, presented a perfect platform for the youths to interact with leaders from the UN, academic sector, government as well as the private sector.
Speaking during the event, Minister of Health Jappie Mhango said Malawi is on track to achieve the 1994 conference commitments but added that more needs to be done to ensure women and girls have access to reproductive services and rights.
"In the area of reproductive rights and reproductive health, although maternal mortality ratio is still high, it has reduced from 984 in 2004 to 439 per 100,000 in 2017," he said, adding that government has developed policies to address reproductive issues.
Despite the progress made by Malawi, the majority of youths are yet to enjoy full reproductive health choices. This has seen a spike in teen pregnancies, which is usually associated with child marriages, an increase in girls dropping out of school and a rise in HIV infection rate.
"We need our voices and ideas to be taken seriously. Otherwise our rights to better sexual reproductive health services will never be respected," said Thoko Makawa (20) from Lilongwe, adding, "Currently, many young people are dropping out of school because of teen pregnancies. This couldn't have been the case if they had access to reproductive information and services."
Delegates from a cross section of society invited to the ICDP25 launch seemed to agree with the youths' sentiments. Speaking during a panel discussion, the Resident Representative for UNFPA in Malawi, Young Hong said despite Malawi making considerable gains over the past 25 years, the country still has a long way to go to live up to the promise of Cairo.
"Too many young people continue to be left behind and too many are still unable to enjoy their rights," she told the jam packed hall. "The cost of inaction is simply too high.
"If we don't act now, more women and girls will die, there will be more unintended pregnancies, more unsafe abortions and more pregnant girls shamed out of school. Consequently, the potential of individuals and societies will be squandered."
- Joseph Scott, UNFPA Malawi