In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), onset of sexual intercourse is initiated during adolescence, however only two in ten sexually active unmarried women are using modern contraception. Improving adolescents’ and young peoples’ knowledge and practices related to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is necessary to improve health outcomes. However, little is known about the SRH attitudes and needs among young people in the DRC. The study aims to contribute to the available evidence by examining adolescents’ and young people’s insights on their cultural norms, practices and attitudes towards SRH services.
Fourteen focus group discussions were conducted with a total of 224 adolescents and young people aged 15–24 years in urban and rural areas of the DRC. The topics discussed and age groups of participants differed somewhat in the urban and rural areas. Data were analyzed to identify themes in the participants’ discussion of their attitudes towards SRH.
Regardless of age differences, common themes emerged. Both in rural and urban areas premarital sex was largely sanctioned by peers but not adults; adolescents feared pregnancy and had limited knowledge of contraceptive methods. Many were misinformed that certain common pharmaceutical products (e.g., decaris) prevent pregnancy. Key barriers to accessing contraception from health facilities and pharmacies included shame and stigma; urban participants also cited cost and judgmental attitudes of health providers.
Addressing the SRH needs of adolescents and young people can have life-long protective benefits. Increasingly decision-makers and gatekeepers in the DRC are accepting the concept of providing SRH services and information to young people. This study shows the pressing need for information and services for young people in both urban and rural areas. The continued expansion SRH programming to all health zones and the developed of the National Strategic Plan for Health and Wellbeing of Adolescents and Youth 2016–2020 are steps toward that goal.