Day of the African Child: A young person's perspective from UNICEF’s Young Reporters Conference

The media conference had a panel of regional UNICEF experts in the areas of Health, Education, WASH and Communications.

Siatra Msandu, UNICEF Zimbabwe Youth Reporter
25 June 2020

This year, as we celebrated the Day of the African Child under the blanket of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had the opportunity to participate in a virtual conference hosted by UNICEF for young people. It was an opportunity for young people from different countries in Africa to highlight pertinent issues that need to be dealt with, as well as exploring possible solutions. As young people, we may not be the most at risk from the COVID-19 virus but we risk falling prey to other problems associated to the pandemic.

One of the issues I am very interested about is Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). The media conference had a panel of regional UNICEF experts in the areas of Health, Education, WASH and Communications. Young people from across the East and Southern African region raised various key issues from their countries, some which were a common challenge for the region.

Before the pandemic, access to SRH services had always been a challenge in Zimbabwe with the barriers associated through our culture, religions and traditions. Young people still commonly face stigma and discrimination when trying to reach SRH services such as HIV testing or pregnancy advice and assistance.

We have had youth friendly corners/centres and school spaces to try and provide spaces for youth-specific services and information about SRHR, but my question to the media conference was: What still needs to be done to ensure the availability, affordability, inclusivity and accessibility of youth-friendly sexual reproductive health and rights(SRHR) and HIV prevention services for young people from rural and urban areas during the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe?

I wanted to ask this question because during the pandemic, issues around SRHR/ HIV prevention seemed to be neglected. UNICEF East and Southern Africa, Advisor for Health, Gabriel Fontana took up the question, and stated the importance of making sure that adolescents and young people are well informed through social media, radio, WhatsApp, mobile phones as well as posters to disseminate key messages on SRH and HIV.

I agreed with him but the issue of accessing services has become even more challenging to handle during this pandemic. The country in a lockdown with strict measures that limit movement one has to be cleared by the police to be granted a letter of travel. It was one thing to avoid the stigma from health service providers, but now making a police official understand the need for SRHR makes matters worse.

In response to the lockdown being an SRHR access barrier, Gabriel Fontana suggested a new angle of door to door and peer to peer approach as methods to strengthen SRH/HIV prevention services for the young people. I proposed deploying mobile clinics as a response to service provision during the pandemic.

The young reporters also raised issues such as the psychological effect of COVID-19 pandemic on young people; how and what will become of our education experience, considering the notable gaps in E-learning; the increase in cases of physical and sexual abuse; and how issues of disability friendly information and services are being addressed.

The UNICEF Youth Media Conference gave us an opportunity to amplify our voices as young people during this pandemic. It is vital that all angles that respond to basic human needs are given an equal share of attention, especially as investing in young people helps us achieve what is known as a youth dividend compared to a youth burden, which means that the more young people we have could be an advantage on development or a problem (overpopulation).

Although, many challenges continue for young people in Zimbabwe, it is what makes us the strong, proud African children that can produce sustainable results for our generation.