Mozambique has some of the world’s worst social indicators on children and adolescents, particularly girls, largely due to limited access to resources and services as well as harmful socio-cultural practices.
More focus now needs to be placed on supporting adolescents, who are the fastest growing population group in Mozambique; an estimated 45 per cent of the population is under 15 years of age and 52 per cent below 18 years.
The population group has some disturbing indicators. For example, almost one in two girls were reported to be married or in a union before reaching 18 years of age. Child marriage is a human rights violation that denies millions of girls their childhood and puts them at risk of early pregnancy, violence, abuse and neglect. Linked to this, is the rate of early onset of sexual intercourse, with 22 per cent of girls and 17 per cent of boys aged 15–19 years initiating sexual activity before the age of 15. Moreover, 9 per cent of girls and 3 per cent of boys aged 15–19 reported experiencing sexual violence. Intergenerational and transactional sex practices are prevalent throughout the country.
The early onset of sexual relations has also contributed to the high level of HIV among adolescents. Epidemiological models estimate that 120,000 adolescents in the country live with HIV, of whom 80,000 are girls. Moreover, estimates for 2014 show that 18,000 adolescents aged 15–19 became infected with HIV that year, most of whom (14,000) were girls compared to boys (4,000). HIV prevalence is significantly higher in girls than boys in the 15–19 age group, 6.5 per cent for girls compared to 1.5 per cent for boys. In the 20–24 age group the disparity is 13.3 per cent compared to 5.3 per cent. It is estimated that of all girls living with HIV, 60 per cent were infected in their second decade through sexual transmission versus 19 per cent of their male counterparts. Of particular concern is the fact that HIV testing among adolescents and young people (15-24) is low at 32 per cent for girls and 15.5 per cent for boys.
Most young people’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviour on health, nutrition, gender roles and HIV are shaped by local cultures and traditions and transmitted and sustained by community institutions, religious leaders and opinion-leaders such as the madrinhas (godmothers) and matronas (traditional birth attendants) who are involved in girls’ initiation rites. Low levels of literacy, especially among females, mean that access to information is mainly oral, highlighting the importance of community-level communication, especially radio broadcasts in local languages and face-to-face communication.
Overall, there is better coordination for adolescent action within and across government and non-government sectors. But still, current monitoring and evaluation systems and platforms do not appropriately capture adolescents, lacking age disaggregation of the 10–14 and 15–19-year-old age groups, thereby making it difficult to ensure relevant and quality adolescent programming.