Understanding the Unique Experiences, Perspectives and Sexual and Reproductive Health Needs of Very Young Adolescents: Somali Refugees in Ethiopia
Kobe Refugee camp hosts roughly 39,000 refugees displaced from Somalia during the 2011–2012 Horn of Africa Crisis. Sexual and reproductive health, as with the greater issues of health and well-being for adolescents displaced from this crisis remain largely unknown and neglected. In 2013, the Women’s Refugee Commission, Johns Hopkins University, and International Medical Corps in Ethiopia, implemented qualitative and quantitative research to explore the factors and risks that impact the health of very young adolescents (VYAs), those 10–14 years of age, in this setting. This paper presents findings from the qualitative effort.
Focus group discussions (FGD), incorporating community mapping and photo elicitation activities, were conducted with 10–12 and 13–14 year-olds to obtain information about their own perspectives, experiences and values. FGDs were also implemented with 15–16 year-olds and adults, to consider their perspectives on the sexual and reproductive health needs and risks of VYAs.
This research identified several factors that were found to influence the health and well-being of VYAs in Kobe refugee camp, including newfound access to education and security, combined with gender divisions and parental communication around early SRH and puberty that remained intact from traditional Somali culture. Girls were found to face an additional risk of child marriage and early pregnancy exacerbated since displacement, which significantly limited their ability to access education and achieve future aspirations.
Findings from this study could help to inform future programs in Kobe and similar contexts involving long-term displacement from conflict, focusing on the health and development needs of VYAs. Future programs should consider the determinants of positive VYA health and development, including access to education, gender equity, and safety.
By better understanding the unique experiences, perspectives and needs of VYAs, practitioners, policy makers and donors can invest in the individual and community assets that reinforce positive behaviors established in early adolescence, in order to achieve long-term SRH impacts.