Why We Should All Put First Young Families Affected by HIV

Where I live in Uganda, and in many countries, adolescent parents like me, and our children, are often cast out from society. We are sometimes rejected by our families, friends, and communities; and can be thrown out of school; scolded at health clinics; experience violence and abuse; and denied social and economic support that, by right, we and our children are entitled to. Most of us become pregnant because we don’t know about contraception or cannot access it; and we may not always know about our rights when it comes to sex. Many girls and young women have been raped. COVID-19 has made things far worse. Lockdowns are holding us captive, allowing rape and abuse to continue behind closed doors with limited ability to seek help or escape such unsafe situations. And, it is much harder for us to get our HIV medication, to access clinics, schools and other services, to earn money, and to support each other.  

My name is Miriam, I am 20 years old and I had my son when I was 15. He is HIV free and growing up healthy and happy. I am living positively with HIV, adhering to my medication, and virally suppressed. I am just about to graduate from school and have high hopes for a bright future. I am a global Ambassador for the Coalition for Children Affected by AIDS and peer educator with TEENS Uganda and UNYPA. I help other young parents overcome the challenges they face. We have formed a small business to earn money to meet our needs. We support each other emotionally. We share our problems and address them together.   

How did I manage it and what helped me? My grandmother was the key. When everyone else rejected me she took me to a home for pregnant girls where I gave birth safely. She helped persuade my family to take me back in, she encouraged me to return to school – far away where no one knew that I have a child – and looked after my son so that I could continue attending school – she still believed in my future.   

I am so proud of my son, who is now 5 years old and means everything to me. And I am so proud of myself and other young parents. In fact, I would go as far as to say that we are heroes!  

I am supporting the Young Families First campaign to tell people everywhere – from my local community to global policy makers – to put young families first. Prioritize us for social and economic support so that we have the knowledge and resources to be educated, feed our children, house them, protect and nurture them and keep them free of HIV. Change laws, policies and attitudes so that we can stay in school and receive health services that are friendly and welcoming. Teach girls and boys about sex and rights and to make contraception widely available. Educate communities about gender equality, and challenge attitudes that normalize violence. Empower adolescent mothers and fathers to be financially independent and to support each other. Listen to us and involve us in decision-making. And, make all of this readily available at the community level – this is where change happens and where we live.  

Adolescent parents and our children can beat HIV and thrive in life. But, we need to be empowered rather than discriminated against. 

Click here to find out more about the #YoungFamiliesFirst campaign and how to get involved.