The United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) activities on behalf of women’s reproductive health has drawn it into providing and expanding anti-HIV training for Latin American and Caribbean law enforcement, preventing or treating maternal birth injuries in Chad and Indonesia and rescuing a nine-year-old girl from her 40-year-old “husband” in Kenya.
The father of the nine-year-old Kenyan girl, Silvia, married her off to the mature man as his fourth wife without consulting her mother. As the child was being frog-marched to his house after the Maasai wedding, the UNFPA-funded Tasaru Ntomonok (“Rescue the Woman”) Girls Rescue Centre intervened. The groom escaped, but Silvia’s father was jailed for one year.
Phyllis, a 16-year-old Kenyan girl, took refuge at the centre after her police officer father tried to force her to undergo female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), a rite of passage outlawed in Kenya since 2001. Her father threatened the police officers protecting her and to take her mother’s life if she dared to visit her. He later refused to pay for the education of her six younger siblings.
The centre has instituted an alternative rite of passage, at which older women, skilled in the traditions, give the girls the same information on reproductive health, sexuality and the challenges of adulthood, such as how to handle their home and husband, but without cutting.
In Chad and southern Indonesia, UNFPA has faced the challenge of making childbirth safer for women.
In Chad, prolonged labour used to give young mothers the hole between vagina and bladder or rectum, called fistulas, leading to incontinence and worse. UNFPA spearheaded a campaign performing fistula repair and subsequently helped the affected mothers get caesarean deliveries.
In southern Indonesia, the national initiative is called the Mother Friendly Movement and it has trained midwives for tens of thousands of villages and given grants for emergency transport to hospitals when the problems go beyond what midwifery can handle.
Meanwhile, at the Las Palmas Air Force Base in Lima, Peru, Air Force Captain Monica Gonzáles Méder is coaching first-year students in how to express happiness, sadness – and tenderness. The exercise is meant to improve the cadets’ self-esteem, help them get in touch with and control their emotions and be more responsible in their sexual relationships.
In 1992, the Government created the Peruvian Armed Forces and Police Committee for the Prevention of HIV/AIDS, known by its Spanish acronym, COPRECOS. Under the leadership of its first president, Juan Alva, an air force general and medical doctor, COPRECOS helped create counterparts in 11 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Peru has since been playing a leading role in Latin America and the Caribbean in protecting military and police recruits from HIV.
Since 2000, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, has helped strengthen COPRECOS. It has trained 341 teachers in topics relating to reproductive and sexual health, as well as the prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and is helping to prevent HIV among military and police personnel in more than a dozen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Police officers must often fill the roles of teacher, parent, social communicator and psychologist, so it’s important for us to have this knowledge, both for our personal and professional lives,” says Jorge Romero Wiracocha, a second-year student at the Peruvian police school.