Level of Knowledge of Sudanese Adolescents about Reproductive Health (RH) and Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs)

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Abstract:

In this paper we found respondents' level of knowledge about maturation signs was low. Only one-third of the respondents knew the exact meaning of family planning and they lacked basic knowledge of the reproductive process: the majority did not know how to determine the fertile period in women; almost half of the respondents had never heard of family planning; knowledge about STDs was limited. The majority of females were circumcised (89.6%). Almost for half of the circumcised female respondents, the procedure was carried out between the ages of six and ten years. More than one-third reported some sort of complications, following mutilation. However, almost two-fifths of the respondents believed that circumcision is a prerequisite for marriage ability.

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Introduction

Promoting adolescent reproductive health in the developing world has become a major issue on the international agenda. Since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD, 1994) in Cairo, the focus in reproductive health research is no longer on numbers of people and demographic targets only.

At present, the world's group of adolescents is larger than ever before in the history (1.2, billion people) with some 85% living in developing countries (UNFPA, 2003). In Sudan, about 25% of the population were adolescents according to the Pan Arab Project for Child Development (PAPCHILD, 1993). As in many other countries, in the Sudan there is virtually no information on adolescent health in general, let alone information on this group's level of knowledge or behavioural practices concerning reproductive health.

Within the general framework of reproductive health, this study will pay special attention to Sudanese adolescents' level of knowledge on reproductive health and the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Adolescence in this context refers to the transition stage between childhood and adulthood, spanning the period between 10 and 19 years.

According to the definition used by the World Health Organisation (WHO), reproductive health addresses the reproductive process, with reference to its functions and system, and implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life, with the capacity to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so (WHO, 1997).

Reproductive health is a broad area that encompasses sexuality education, pregnancy prevention, pregnancy related health services, pregnancy, abortion, and childbearing. These topics have to be seen within the broader context of social normative behaviour and gender relationships, which are shaped not only by family, peers, the local community, and the social environment, but also by such pervasive influences as the media and public policies (English et al., 1999).

It is important to understand when and how adolescents acquire the knowledge that will prepare them for the roles as parents and partners on marriage. Traditionally, adolescents in Sudan have been shielded from information about reproduction and sexuality until the time of marriage. Even information about physical maturation is often not discussed within the family, on the assumption that the silence will convey the taboo nature of this topic, protect a child's innocence, and discourage inappropriate behaviour. However, the lack of proper knowledge and the silence surrounding the topic of reproductive health may be assumed to contribute to health problems, such as prevalence/incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STD's), FGM/FC and unwanted pregnancy.

The vulnerability of adolescents for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) has been recognized over the past years. Recent research has shown that transmission of STDs and HIV infection is extremely high among adolescents in many sub-Saharan countries (Obasi et al., 1999; Konde-Lule et al. …