“Gambians don’t talk to their children about SRH matters. They think their children are virgins…” Contribution of Significant Adults in Providing Sexual and Reproductive Health Information to Adolescents in The Gambia
Risky sexual activities amongst adolescents is a major concern in sub-Saharan Africa. Identifying factors that influence risky sexual behaviour is critical to addressing issue like STI, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions. According to UNFPA (2013), 41.5% of young people between 15-24 years in The Gambia were sexually active and around 15% of the sexually active girls had been pregnant at least once and half of those pregnancies were unwanted and occurred mostly amongst school girls. Although studies in other sub-Saharan countries suggests that SRH communication between significant adults and adolescent influence adolescents sexual behaviour, there are scarcely any studies on this subject in The Gambia. This study investigated the contribution of significant adults in providing sexual and reproductive health information to adolescents in The Gambia. A qualitative interpretive approach was chosen for this study. The objective was to use significant adults' explanations of their communication experiences with adolescents to build an understanding of the influential factors that impact such communication. Semi-structured individual face-to-face interviews and focus group discussion were used to gather data from a total of 24 participants comprising of parents and health professionals. Data was audio recorded and then transcribed for analysis. The findings in the present study widely reflects the existing literature on SRH communication between significant adults and adolescents in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Significant adults in The Gambia were found to engage adolescents in SRH communication. However, the scope of such communications was very limited and did not adequately address challenges like safe sex and STI protection which adolescents face. It was found that parents and health professionals were both primarily motivated by religious and cultural values, which informed their attitudes about SRH. These values are further reinforced by the limited knowledge of parents as well as gender norms. The findings suggest that significant adults’ contribution to adolescent’s SRH information was poor and inadequate. A number of recommendations were identified and outlined to improve significant adult-adolescent SRH communication.