Transforming the lives of young people through peer-led sex education

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are key to young people’s development, yet in Zambia many have limited access to friendly SRHR information including services and products.

Faith

Faith leading a learning session.

The knowledge gap

In Zambia, it’s not uncommon for young people to start having sex at an early age which is one of the reasons behind the high teenage pregnancy rate in the country. According to the latest Zambia Demographic and Health Survey from 2018, 29% of Zambian girls have given birth by the age of 18.

Children born to adolescent mothers may experience a wide range of problems, they are at greater risk of low birth weight, stunting, and infant mortality. Poor health associated with being born to adolescent mothers may also prevent children from being active in school and from completing their education.

18-year-old Faith has witnessed the effect of early pregnancy amongst her own friendship group. “Our community has high numbers of teen pregnancies and I have seen some of my friends dropping out of school because of this. I am one of the few who have completed their secondary education.”

Addressing the gap

To help reduce the number of girls dropping out of school due to unwanted pregnancies, Plan International developed a programme to teach young people about their sexual health and rights. The project in Chibombo has established a number of adolescent groups at schools across the district.

I am proud of the work we do equipping young people in the community with knowledge.

As a founding member of one of the groups, Faith welcomes the opportunity to learn more about sex and health rights, a subject that is not often openly discussed in Zambia. “I am able to make informed decisions about my life in relation to my sexual health because of the knowledge I have gained as a member of the adolescent group.”

Faith (second from right) with other peer educators
Faith (second from right) with other Peer Educators

The group was formed in 2017 and has 42 members aged between 14 and 25 years who meet every Thursday. The group members are expected to pass on the information they learn to their peers. “I was motivated to join the group because I wanted to know more about sexual and reproductive health and rights so that I could teach other students and community members on the same subject.”

Faith says that most of the girls she speaks to do not have much knowledge about sex education and came from poorer households. “Recently, we visited 3 schools and 3 villages and reached more than 250 young people, mainly boys and girls, with the aim of teaching them about body development, pregnancy, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, relationships, harmful practices and other forms of gender-based violence.”

Supporting peers

The peer education adolescent groups are being supported through Plan International’s Girls Step Up project which is an initiative focused on promoting sex education and dialogue among adolescent girls and young people. The project aims to increase teenagers knowledge of SRHR, promote access to and use of sexual health services among adolescent girls and young people and develop youth leadership skills.

The project is also providing opportunities for adolescent girls and young people to learn financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills so they can live independently, which will hopefully lead to a reduction in early marriages and teenage pregnancies.

“I am proud of the work we do equipping young people in the community with knowledge about sexuality education, social norms and gender equality, teenage pregnancy, access to adolescent and youth friendly SRHR services, including contraception and safe abortion among other things,” concludes Faith.

Girls Get Equal, Sexual and reproductive health and rights, Comprehensive sexuality education, Sexual and reproductive health services