With all the focus on adults and children, adolescents slip through the cracks
The neglect of the need for adolescent development and protection by 2030 in Bangladesh is likely to harm the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), early girl-child marriage, child bride pregnancies, and infant mortality amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A private think-tank, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), critiquing the budget, said it didn’t prioritize lives and livelihoods, even though the Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal claimed in the Jatiya Sangsad (parliament) that it was focused on livelihood.
In the case of adolescents in the scenario, inadequate fund allocation of the government has impeded the implementation of the adolescent health program.
Dripping disbursement of funds has affected the program implementation for more than one-fifth of the population of adolescents in our country.
Nevertheless, there is a National Strategy for Adolescent Health 2017-2030. As usual, from 2017 until now, there is no visible progress in providing adolescent service.
In fact, different governmental departments, as well as national and international NGOs, are implementing the adolescent health program -- unfortunately, it does not cover the entire adolescent population of the country.
The policy-makers, politicians, and a segment of the society believe that the population are children and adults only, sans adolescents. This notion has trained the mindset of parents and community leaders, as they do not recognize the need for adolescent health care services.
It’s worth appreciating that the government has a political commitment from policy-makers and community representatives to implement the program according to the laws related to the rights of the child.
As Wahida Banu, executive director of Aparajeyo Bangladesh, said, the adolescent program should be expanded to all levels of the country involving government, NGOs, and civil society to cover all adolescents.
It was indeed a frustrating initiative to establish Adolescent Friendly Health Services (AFHS) corners in all educational institutes, including schools and health centres in the country for providing medicines, sanitary napkins, and health advice and counselling.
Bangladesh is home to 36 million adolescents, making up 22% of the population. But adolescent-friendly services are not a familiar concept, remarked Wahida Banu.
Both Plan International and Aparajeyo Bangladesh fear that the present coronavirus pandemic has begun to take its toll on the high rate of child marriage -- adolescent girls in Bangladesh are at risk from early pregnancies, violence, and a lack of nutrition.
Of the women aged between 20 and 24, as many as 53% were married before the age of 18. There is a high fertility rate among adolescents, coupled with their families who have limited awareness of health needs.
As understood, adolescents lack access to health facilities and information on hygiene, especially during first menstruation, said Rehan Uddin Ahmed Raju, who conducted a research on “Analysis of Annual NPoA Budget of the National Strategy for Adolescent Health 2017-2030” on behalf of Plan International and Aparajeyo Bangladesh.
Raju stressed the need for the government’s urgent intervention for the adolescent population in the country during the Covid-19 outbreak.
This includes key information on reproductive health, nutrition, and psycho-social counselling. These conditions contribute to high mortality rates of newborns in Bangladesh, besides neonatal and maternal morbidities.
The program for the adolescent population needs to be augmented at the soonest, and Wahida Banu fears that urgent action is needed to achieve the targets, in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 23 June 2021
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter @saleemsamad