The aim of the study was to ascertain the influence of knowledge and interventions in sexual and reproductive health and contraception practices among adolescent street girls from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A cross-sectional study was carried out among street girls between 12 and 21 years of age. A standardised questionnaire was used, encompassing socio-demographic data and knowledge and practices regarding sexual and reproductive health. A network analysis was carried out.
The study comprised 293 street girls. The mean age was 17.1 years (range 12-21 years) and the mean time spent living on the streets was 3.9 years (range 0-15 years). Commercial sex was reported by 78.5% (95% confidence interval [CI] 73.3%, 83.2%) as the main source of their income. During their last sexual intercourse, 44.0% (95%CI 38.1%, 50.4%) had not used a condom; 29.3% (95%CI 23.3%, 35.9%) had used hormonal contraception. Previous pregnancy was reported by 62.5% (95%CI 56.7%, 68.3%) and current pregnancy by 12.3% (95%CI 8.8%, 17.2%); 24.5% of previous pregnancies ended in voluntary termination, with a higher rate among the youngest street girls (12-15 years, 50.0%; p = 0.01). Time spent living on the streets was independently associated with pregnancy (odds ratio 1.2; 95%CI 1.1, 1.4). Practices and outcomes (previous or current pregnancy) were poorly correlated with knowledge about sexual and reproductive health. The network analysis confirmed the poor influence of exposure to intervention activities on sexual and reproductive health practices and outcomes, but did confirm a centrality effect of knowledge about HIV/AIDS.
Street girls in Kinshasa are extremely vulnerable with regard to their sexual and reproductive health, especially the youngest street girls. Behavioural and biomedical interventions have had limited influence. Structural and societal changes are necessary to positively impact street girls’ sexual and reproductive health. Knowledge about HIV/AIDS than about risk of pregnancy had a greater influence on sexual and reproductive health practices.