Don’t Let Teens Fall Through the Cracks in Refugee Camps

Adolescent sexual and reproductive health concerns are rarely prioritised in established settlements. But what happens in displaced environments where the priorities are very basic − safety, a roof over one’s head; and daily meals?

Mantapala Camp is being established by the Government of Zambia in Nchelenge District, Luapula Province to gradually settle over 15 000 people that have overwhelmed Kenani transit center. In Kenani the majority are women and children, and close to 60% are children under 18 years. Many children come to the camp unaccompanied, and  some are fortunate enough to be re-united with family members inside the camp.

Mantapala is a marked improvement from Kenani, which was hastily set up with the arrival of the first refugees. The congested shelters made mostly of plastic sheeting and thatch are being replaced by 20 x 30 meter family plots to build homes which include the relative luxury of a family latrine. Certainly fresh air and space are greatly appreciated in the new 6000-hectare camp.

 Kenani transit center

Kenani transit center

 A Mantapala household

A Mantapala household

As usual the line ministries and non-governmental partners have come in to offer services, based on their missions and comparative strengths. Under the coordination and monitoring of UNHCR, the Ministry of Health has set up clinics that are providing limited adult health and family planning services. UNFPA is providing condoms, and CARE is focusing on gender based violence services.

Save the Children International and Plan International specialise in child-friendly services. Plans are advanced to build a school in Mantapala so that the children do not fall behind in their studies. A few counselors supported by Plan International are doing their best to assist children who have experienced the worst trauma. It is difficult to make the selection as the majority of children have experienced trauma.

In all these efforts at service provision, adolescents are largely missing. There is still a great need for youth friendly sexual reproductive health services, psychosocial support and more recreational or skills training activities for youth.

Not identifying with adults or children, the adolescents are largely left to fend for themselves. Combined with too few recreational facilities and no life-skills training, this is a time-bomb that is waiting to explode.

Contact: Naume Kupe