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Regional News Fri, 16 Jan 2004

Harmonise laws on adolescent sexual issues - Lithur

Shai Hills (GA), Jan. 16, GNA - Nana Oye Lithur, a legal practitioner, on Friday called for the harmonisation of national laws and policies on adolescent health and reproductive issues to clear the confusion in the delivery of family planning services to sexually active adolescents.

She said dilemma existed in giving family planning services to adolescents in basic and secondary schools because of the legal consensual age of sexual responsibility at 16, against the National Reproductive Health policy, which endorsed the accessibility of family planning services to sexually active adolescents.

She said the Policy defined the adolescent age from 10 to 19 years, and added that research showed some adolescents were sexually active. Nana Lithur, who was speaking at a policy and advocacy workshop for District and Regional Directors of Education, organized by the African Youth Alliance (AYA), suggested advocacy as a strong tool to bring harmony in the national policies on adolescent health and reproductive health issues.

The workshop was to give the directors, who were directly involved in the implementation of AYA projects a briefing on the identified gaps in policies on adolescent health and reproductive issues and to receive feedback from them in the AYA "In-School" project.

Nana Lithur, who is also the Co-coordinator of the Ghana Chapter of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), said the tendency for heads and supervisors of educational institutions was to punish pupils and students found with family planning products, and also prevent them from having such services.

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She said individuals and civil society groups could take action and seek redress in the courts, to provide family planning services to sexually active adolescents in secondary schools.

Mr Emmanuel Acquaye, Director, Curriculum Research and Development Division of the Ghana Education Service (GES), said the majority of young people aged between 10 and 24 in Ghana were in school and accounted for about 30 per cent of the total population.

He noted that a significant 60 per cent of Ghana' s population was below 25 years and fell within the adolescent group, but many adolescents were left on their own to make crucial choices and decisions about their sexuality, with devastating problems like teenage pregnancy and sexual exploitation, early marriage, unsafe abortion as well sexually transmitted infections (STI's) and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Dr Ruby Avotri, Project Director of AYA, who gave an overview of AYA activities, said the AYA was a collaborative programme of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, the Program of Appropriate Technology for Health and Pathfinder International.

She said AYA aimed at reducing the incidence and spread of HIV/ AIDS and other STI's, delay the onset of sexual activities and encourage the practice of safe sex, and also improve an overall Adolescent Reproductive Health, through advocacy.

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Dr Avortri said the In-School AYA Project was in 20 districts and five regions, and added that the project, which targeted 10 to 24 year olds, had its emphasis on 10 to 19 year olds.

Mrs Doris Mawuse Aglobitse, Programme Technical Officer of AYA, stressed the essence to change positive sexual lifestyles, noting that despite increased awareness, there was very little change in lifestyles of adolescents.

Mrs Lucy Kwapong, Tema Municipal Director of Education, said teachers must appeal to the conscience of pupils rather than punish them to change their sexual habits.

Source: GNA