The present generation of young people is the largest in the country’s history. Coincidentally, the highest rate of HIV infection is constantly recorded among this group. Young people are one of the most vulnerable groups to the disease.As Nigerian adolescents begin to engage in sexual relations at a much earlier age than in the past, cases of HIV/AIDS infection are being reported among pre-teenage youths in schools.
The occurrence of new infections is highest among young people aged 15-24 years, accounting for 40 per cent of new infections in 2006. Having multiple sex partners continues to be recognised as a persistent problem driving the epidemic in the country, especially among adolescent and young people.
A recent HIV/AIDS school-based survey shows a low risk perception among school pupils towards contracting the HIV virus, a high tendency to discriminate and stigmatise HIV positive persons and some level of misconception about the mode of transmission of the HIV virus. For instance 26% of respondents thought that mosquitoes could transmit the virus.
In response to this situation, the Government has developed the Education Sector Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS and has included HIV-AIDS in the public school health curriculum.
In many parts of the country, traditional values promoting female submissiveness make adolescent girls more vulnerable because it is difficult for them to refuse sexual relationships. In addition, early marriage for girls remains a common practice in some communities, particularly in the Northern part of Nigeria. In 2005, the median age at marriage for women in Nigeria was 17 with some regional variation. Marriage of girls as young as 12 or 10 years is still common in some areas.
This is particularly worrisome given the implications on the child bride. Consequences of child marriage include obstetric fistula, infections, HIV, infertility, limited social support and high infant and maternal morbidity and mortality.