Rabat – One in every four Moroccan children is unwanted, while 73 percent of maternal deaths could be prevented, according to the United Nations. On July 12, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Health presented a report on family planning in Morocco. The results are edifying, to say the least.
Entitled “Family Planning: Nation’s Empowerment and Development,” the report measures the progress made by Morocco in the extension of the family planning program, and draws up its future prospects. The meeting, held in Rabat in celebration of World Population Day, was an opportunity to discuss the link between family planning and the demographic dividend.
Bérangère Boell-Yousfi, country director of UNFPA Morocco, said that in Morocco “one pregnant woman in four did not want her pregnancy or wished to delay it, and 73 percent of maternal deaths could have been prevented,” despite a 30 percent decline in the maternal mortality rate over the past five years.
Boell-Yousfi also stressed the need for Morocco “to ensure that women and young people have access to quality sexual and reproductive health services and information, including voluntary family planning,” which is essential for “the economic empowerment of women and girls” and thus to “political emancipation” and “social transformation.”
“Morocco has made stunning advances in maternal health over the past 15 years,” stated Boell-Youssfi, adding that maternal mortality rate declined to 72.6 deaths per 100,000 live births, “that is over 30 percent in five years.”
Khalid Lahlou, head of the Population Directorate at the Ministry of Health, also confirmed Boell-Youssfi’s statements, adding that the department’s efforts in this area have resulted in a significant reduction in maternal and infant-child mortality rates.
The dramatic decline in fertility correlated with the sharp increase in the contraceptive prevalence rate, which reached 67.4 percent among married women, indicates that women have a better overall control of fertility. However, contraception methods are strongly dependent on the pill to the detriment of long-term methods, and the acute lack of knowledge and availability of emergency contraception at the level of public structures is still persistent.
Young people barred from accessing sexual and reproductive health services
While these figures are in fact promising, another issue still persists. Family planning is still limited to married couples. The UNFPA points out that “information/ education/ communication and services for teenagers and young people remain limited despite evidence of early sexual activity in this category.”
In a report entitled “Rights and Universal Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH),” the UNFPA reveals that “the average age of first sexual intercourse is about 16.5 years for boys and 17.8 years for girls.”
Young people are at higher risk of negative consequences since they do not have access to adequate SRH information and services, points out the UNFPA. According to the latter, Moroccan teenagers and young people engage in several risky behaviors. “In Morocco, 7.9 percent of girls aged 15-24 years who had sex had an unwanted pregnancy,” while “60 percent of young boys frequent sex workers and nearly a quarter of them never use condoms.”
The lack of appropriate sexual education and reproductive health services among young people is all the more catastrophic once combined with gender inequalities. “Inequalities and Gender-Based Violence persist and prevent SRH rights claims for women and girls,” stressed UNFPA.
Set at 32 percent, the teenage fertility rate (15-19) is high in Morocco, mainly due to early marriage, but also to sexual violence and insufficient access to information and SRH services. The UNFPA also points out that knowledge of the risks and negative consequences on reproductive health remains limited.
And while the prevalence of sexual violence is still high in Morocco, knowledge and access to emergency contraception remains low in the public sector.
In a climate where sexual education is not institutionalized, where there is a serious lack of health structures destined to young people, and where youth is faced with cultural and administrative obstacles in accessing SRH services, it is no surprise that the UNFPA questions why these inequalities and gender-based violence persist despite the demand for SRH rights for women and girls.