Preparing Adolescents and Young People to take Informed Decisions

When fifteen years old Rashmi* (name changed) recently learned how babies are made, she felt awkward. Rashmi says she did not know much about sexual and reproductive health (SRH) while growing up.

 “Although we have health education classes at school, we are taught about these things on a surface level. I got to learn in detail about human reproduction only after I participated in the recently held workshop on SRH in my village,” says Rashmi, who is studying in grade ten and is from SOS Children’s Village Surkhet.

Rashmi’s friend Sushmita* (name changed) also says she can relate to Rashmi’s experience since she, too, has struggled while navigating topics on SRH.

“When I had my first periods, I did not know what was happening to me. I thought I had some serious disease. I was worried, but, at the same time, I was afraid to inform my mother about it,” says fourteen years old Sushmita, also from SOS Children’s Village Surkhet.

Sushmita says she does not remember anyone explaining why she menstruated every month. “No one took the time to tell me; why my body is doing this. I learned about the usage of sanitary pads and menstruation hygiene only after I got my period. If I had prior information about these things, I would not have panicked when I had my first period,” Sushmita says.

Rashmi’s and Sushmita’s experiences are not exceptional in Nepal. Due to taboos, stigma and lack of education on SRH topics, most adolescent girls and boys are left on their own when it comes to understanding the changes in their bodies during adolescence. At the same time, although they have many questions about their changing bodies, young adolescents are often clueless and do not know whom to ask and how to find answers. Not every answer on internet is correct or provides accurate information.

For example, the 2022 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey  carried out by the Ministry of Health and Population and USAID reveals that 65% of young women and 88% of young men between the age group of 15-19 knew that consistent use of condoms can reduce the risk of getting HIV. Only 16% of young women and 27% of young men have a thorough knowledge of HIV prevention. 

“Most adults, including our family members, still refrain from talking to their children about menstruation, sanitation, or sex. Therefore, there is no way we can openly discuss the topics related to safe sex and healthy reproductive practices at home or school,” says Rashmi. 

Providing youth-friendly information

To help equip adolescents like Rashmi and Ashmita to make informed decisions about their bodies and to start the conversation around SRH, SOS Children’s Villages Nepal has started conducting workshops on sexual and reproductive health at programme locations.

Tailored to adolescent girls and boys between the age group of 12-19 years, the main objective of such programmes is to provide information on topics such as sexual and reproductive health, family planning and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV prevention services and menstrual hygiene. These sessions are conducted by an expert, a gynecologist. Girls and boys can satisfy their curiosities and get information directly from the doctor. 

Session on SRH is being conducted

Both Rashmi and Sushmita participated in the SRH workshop that was conducted in November 2022. According to them, it was only after participating in the workshop that they realized how important conversation around reproductive and sexual health is to make an informed decision at their age or even younger. 

Sushmita wishes awareness programmes about SRH could become more accessible to everyone in the village. That is why, Reshma Shrestha, Child Safeguarding focal at SOS Children’s Village Nepal, is working towards taking the sessions to different programme locations. 

 “Reproductive and sexual health is essential for an individual’s life. Therefore, the foremost thing is to work towards normalizing conversations around sexual health,” says Reshma Shreshtha, Deputy Director, Child Safeguarding and Advocacy. 

 Reshma shared eight locations out of ten locations in Nepal, have already conducted workshops on SRH, and two locations are preparing to conduct the programme soon. “In each session, we had about 25 to 30 participants where they not only got information from the doctor, but they also had open and frank conservations in a safe environment,” says Reshma. “This is an ongoing process, so we will continue to provide orientation to adolescents.”

“The benefit of SRH education go further than just talking about risks. SRH education is equally important in safeguarding the well-being of each child and adolescent and in preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. When children and young people are informed about SRH and SRH rights, they will have the confidence and skills to make healthy and autonomous decisions about their sexuality, bodies and relationships. They will not only be able to identify what consensual relationship looks like, at the same time, they will also have confidence to speak up about the things deemed to be unpleasant,”, Reshma adds.

“Sexual and reproductive health rights for children, adolescents and young people should be acknowledged and celebrated. However, conservative societal ideologies are putting these rights at risk and pushing adolescents to the edge where they become victims of harmful norms, practices and gender-based violence. Thus, education on SRH can be the medium to secure our SRH rights while dismantling these regressive ideologies,” says Reshma.

SOS Children’s Villages Nepal has developed its National Strategy from 2023-2027 prioritizing two goals, which includes focusing on enhancing safeguarding in all spheres of its work. One of the ways to achieve this goal is to strengthen child-safeguarding mechanisms in programmes, one way is to orient children, and young people on SRH proactively.

In the workshop that Rashmi and Sushmita participated in, girls of their age had many questions for the doctor. “It felt so good to openly discuss subjects deemed taboo in our society. Some of the questions we asked the doctor were--What are the side effects of having sex at an early age? Why is there a stigma around menstruation in Nepalese society? How do we stay maintain hygiene during menstruation? Is it possible for two girls to have sex?”

These and many other questions were freely asked and answered without judgement. Conducting sessions on SRH, began during the pandemic. The Child Safeguarding team realized that the lockdown would provide increased opportunities for intimacy between children and young people staying in the Children’s Villages. This provided an impetus to begin a conversation around SRH that was scaled up with the help of experts to reach all Children’s Villages in Nepal. Currently, more than 600 children have participated in the workshops.

Established in 1972, SOS Children’s Villages Nepal believes that every child should grow up with love, respect and security with bonds they need to their strongest selves. We are committed to providing a range of care solutions to children and young people through a range of care options. As of October 2022, we have reached 17337 programme participants where 1125 children are currently growing up in 132 SOS families across 10 locations; 922 young people are supported under Young Care Programme and 4492 children and young people are directly supported under Family Strengthening Programme.