Transitions into puberty and access to sexual and reproductive health information in two humanitarian settings: A cross-sectional survey of very young adolescents from Somalia and Myanmar

Anna E. Kågesten, Linnea Zimmerman, William C Robinson, Catherine Irene En-Lin Lee, Tenaw Bawoke, Shahd Osman, Jennifer Schlecht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Very young adolescents (VYA) in humanitarian settings are largely neglected in terms of sexual and reproductive health (SRH). This study describes the characteristics of VYA aged 10-14 years in two humanitarian settings, focusing on transitions into puberty and access to SRH information. Methods: Data were collected through a cross-sectional survey with Somali VYA residing in the Kobe refugee camp in Ethiopia (N = 406) and VYA from Myanmar residing in the Mae Sot and Phop Phra migrant communities in Thailand (N = 399). The average age was 12 years (about half were girls) in both communities. Participants were recruited using multi-stage cluster-based sampling with probability proportional to size in each site. Descriptive statistics were used to describe the sociodemographic, family, peer, and schooling characteristics and to explore transitions into puberty and access to SRH information. Results: Most VYA in both sites reported living with both parents; nine in ten reported feeling that their parents/guardians care about them, and over half said that their parents/guardians monitor how and with whom they spend their free time. High proportions in both sites were currently enrolled in school (91.4% Somali, 87.0% from Myanmar). Few VYA, particularly those aged 10-12, reported starting puberty, although one in four Somali indicated not knowing whether they did so. Most girls from Myanmar who had started menstruating reported access to menstrual hygiene supplies (water, sanitation, cloths/pads). No Somali girls reported access to all these supplies. While over half of respondents in both sites reported learning about body changes, less than 20% had learnt about pregnancy and the majority (87.4% Somali, 78.6% from Myanmar) indicated a need for more information about body changes. Parents/guardians were the most common source of SRH information in both sites, however VYA indicated that they would like more information from friends, siblings, teachers and health workers. Conclusions: This study highlights gaps in SRH information necessary for healthy transitions through puberty and supplies for menstrual hygiene in two humanitarian settings. VYA in these settings expressed closeness to their parents/guardians and the majority were in school. Introducing early SRH interventions that involve parents and educational centers may thus yield promising results, providing VYA with the necessary skills for understanding and dealing with their pubertal and sexual development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number24
JournalConflict and Health
StatePublished - Nov 14 2017



  • Humanitarian settings
  • Myanmar
  • Refugees
  • Sexual and reproductive health
  • Somalia
  • Very young adolescents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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