Very young adolescent perceptions of growing up in rural southwest Uganda: Influences on sexual development and behavior

Viola N Nyakato, Charlotte Achen, Destinie Chambers, Ruth Kaziga, Zina Ogunnaya, Maya Wright, Susan Kools


Very young adolescents (VYAs) are at the beginning of major physical, cognitive, emotional, and social changes that will set the course for a lifetime of health risks or resilience and yet, they have been largely an invisible group in global health research. The study explored perceptions of VYAs of the context for adolescence in rural Uganda and how these perceptions relate to sexual and reproductive health. Twenty VYAs, aged 11-14 from a southwest province in Uganda participated; 10 girls and 10 boys. All were of low socioeconomic status and attending school. With Institutional Review Board approval, a community-based participatory design was used with community advisory board (CAB) guidance. Community mapping and photovoice were data collection strategies as deemed developmentally appropriate for this age group. VYAs narrated their maps and photographs in focus groups. Field notes were taken on observations of adolescent life in the villages. The CAB assisted in the interpretation of data. Focus group interview transcripts and field notes were thematically analyzed and triangulated with observational field notes to verify and amplify findings. VYAs dichotomized people and places that offered support and protection or exposure to risk and vulnerability. Cultural norms (gendered expectations for roles and responsibilities, the primacy of work), the influences of significant others (peers, family, other important adults) and places in their environment that represented either safe havens or danger zones comprised the major themes. VYA perceptions of their context and experiences will contribute to design of developmentally appropriate and community tailored interventions to promote their health. (Afr J Reprod Health 2021; 25[2]: 50-64).

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