Agatha, 14, is the fourth in a family of seven children.

They are all female, and in line with the aged-long tradition in this part of the world, six of them are circumcised. At 14, Agatha was in her second year in the college when her mother gave birth to the last child – another girl. Agatha, with little knowledge gained from school, did not wait for anyone to inform her that the new baby would go the way of others and be circumcised.

Usually, most babies are circumcised on the eighth day. On the fifth day, Agatha who had had sleepless nights on how to approach the parents to stop the act led her other sisters to beg their father not to circumcise their sister. Unfortunately, the parents did not see reason. By the time the dust settled, Agatha found herself thrown out of the family house.

With no roof over her head, she went to live with her uncle somewhere in Akwa-Ibom, but to her dismay, it was a case of from frying pan into fire. Few months after, Agatha, who had become a perpetual victim of sexual harassment from her uncle, discovered she was pregnant. Once again, she found herself thrown out of house and home by the same uncle that put her in the family way. This was how Agatha ended up living under one of the bridges in Lagos.

Today, Agatha is one of the numberless Nigerian children who have lost their home, education and so many other good things of life as a result of negligence and outdated cultural practices. Harmful traditional sexual and reproductive health practices are said to have negative effects on the sexual and reproductive health.

Unfortunately, despite their harmful nature and their violation of international human rights laws, such practices persist because they are not questioned and take on an appearance of morality in the eyes of those practising them.

However, while some communities have modified or abandoned these practices on discovering that they are harmful, some still continue.

Recently, Action Health International (AHI) – one of the many Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) working assiduously to see that these practices are stopped, held a programme tagged “Teenage Festival of Life’ (TFL).

Executive Director, AHI, Mrs. Nike Esiet, said these practices being considered harmful in Nigeria based on facts and research are Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Male Child Preference, sexual abuse, early marriage, early pregnancy and forced marriage.

This year’s theme “Ensuring Our Rights: Addressing Harmful Sexual Health Practices”, was meant to make adolescents to be aware of the various factors that influence the experiences they have at this stage of their lives because only adolescents who know themselves, value themselves are aware of their options and are skilled will have the capacity to develop into healthy and responsible adults.

Stating the need to providing life – enhancing information and skills to deal with the myriad of health concerns confronting young people, she called on traditional rulers, community leaders to work towards putting a stop to the practices in Nigeria.

Esiet sais: “TFL came into existence in 1993 to bridge the communication gap between young people and adults and serve as a forum for young people to show case their creative talents.

Representative of the Lagos State Permanent Secretary Education and Tutor General, District V1, Oshodi, Mrs Teslimat Mosunmola Akinwande, called for implementation of the FLHE in schools will address issues of adolescent reproductive health as it relates to attitude, behaviour, and values as well as the ability to make informed choices about their reproductive health.

It seeks to educate adolescents about the life skills they need in order to make responsible decisions about their sexuality as well as the development of skills to cope with the challenges of growing up. It also seeks to equip young people with knowledge and skills in peer education so that they can educate their peers on sexuality issues”

She traced most of the problems being encountered by most Nigerian youths to lack of information,.

Akinwande called on Nigerian youths to stay away from drugs and other acts that would mar their future. Stating that sound education is the best for every child, she called on parents to ensure that the young ones are given basic education.

The festival, which attracted not less than 5,000 participants provided young people the opportunity for self – expression.

The high- point of the event was award of prizes to schools and individuals for their outstanding performances. Schools in the 1st and 3rd positions in the three categories were awarded trophies while those in the 4th and 6th positions were awarded plaques. The supervising teachers were presented gift items ranging from China plates.

Source: 18 November 2008