By Martine Moïse, First Lady of Haiti
“I would have been able to avoid this disaster, if I had access to information. I knew nothing about sex, babies or life. At my age, I should have finished my studies first and had a job. Now, I am older than an old lady. I have four children that I can only just manage to feed. It’s a real disaster,” admits Christelle, an 18-year-old Haitian mother of four living in Port-au-Prince’s southern shanty town area. Her frank statement challenges and reminds us of how access to information and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services is essential for Haiti’s young people to reach their potential and participate fully in the development of our country.
The Ministry of Public Health and Population’s latest Mortality, Morbidity and Service Utilization Survey reveals that 13 percent of adolescents have had sex before they turn 15. One in 10 young women aged 15-19 has already started her reproductive life. Furthermore, even though all women surveyed said they had heard of at least one contraceptive method, only three in 10 women aged 15-49 were using a modern method of contraception at the time of the survey; and this decreases to just 8.1 percent for young women aged 15-19 years. Four percent of women of reproductive age reported having resorted to abortion at least once in their lifetime.
These figures reflect the reality of far too many young girls who become mothers while they are still children themselves. This includes young girls who: have suffered sexual violence; dropped out of school because of unwanted pregnancies—which helps fuel the cycle of poverty; contracted sexually transmitted infections or not survived the complications of unsafe abortions; and a lifetime of complications from pregnancy at a young age.
A number of initiatives are underway and significant efforts are being made at the highest level of the government to strengthen prevention through information and awareness-building as well as to improve access to family planning services. Given the importance of this issue, we must do more and do better. There is no time to waste! We must act to ensure that the young people who form the vast majority of our population can fully enjoy their rights, including their SRH rights. We must act so that young people have access to quality information to enable them to make responsible choices. We must also act to guarantee that young people have access to health services, where they feel welcome, free from judgment and able to access comprehensive information and modern contraceptive methods. The young people of our country expect a lot from us—rightfully so—and there is no room for error or failure. We must not disappoint them.
Banner photo credit: PSI/Evelyn Hockstein