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“There is need for continued dialogue to reach consensus on how best young people’s sexual and reproductive health needs can be fulfilled and, eventually, concrete actions taken to make this a reality for Uganda’s young people”.

This was the key message of a half-day dialogue organised by UNFPA, the Netherlands Embassy and National Population Council on June 21 at Kabira club in Kampala. The dialogue was part of the events leading up to the commemoration of World Population Day on July 11.

Held under the theme Leaving no young person behind: strengthening SRH service delivery and accountability for adolescents and youth, the dialogue brought together young people, civil society, members of parliament and representatives of both the central government and district local governments.

Discussions at the event were powered by a panel discussion made up of UNFPA Representative Mr.  Alain Sibenaler; Dr Charles Kiggundu from Mulago National Referral Hospital and Mr. Henry Semakula the in- charge of Health and HIV/AIDS at the Ministry of Education and Sports. Also on the panel were Dr Michal Bukenya, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Health and Youth Member of Parliament Anna Adeke Ebaju.

The focus of the discussion was an interrogation of whether enough is being done to support young people in Uganda access accurate reproductive health information and services in the context of challenges they face including high child marriage and teenage pregnancy rates, high maternal mortality rates and sexual violence.

The panel agreed that while there has been significant progress, such as the development of a National Sexuality Education Framework there still remain gaps in fulfilling young people’s rights, including lack of agreement on what these rights entail.  This point was illustrated by the testimony of 19-year old Agnes from Tororo in Eastern Uganda who, lacking adequate information and support, was influenced into getting married and having a baby at seventeen.

UNFPA Representative Mr. Alain Sibenaler noted that bringing together different views on issues of young people, in particular from across the different generations, would help create the right momentum that would bring about change.  “Giving young people space to come and talk to us and tell us what works and what doesn’t is really a step in the right direction. I see, for instance increasingly, a lot of consciousness about issues such as increased budgets for Family Planning,” he said.

A speech delivered by the Minister of State for Youth and Children Affairs Hon. Nakiwala Kiyingi, on behalf of the Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda also weighed in on the need for continued dialogue. “It provides opportunities for us to listen to young people on how we can meet their development needs as well as their sexual and reproductive health needs. Without attaining the highest standards of sexual and reproductive health, it will not be possible to harness the demographic dividend,” the Prime Minister said.

Also in attendance at the event was the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Uganda his Excellency Henk Jan Bakker who highlighted the need to create an enabling environment that will support young people to access information and youth friendly services.

-Story by Martha Songa