Day of 6 Billion



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The Day of 6 Billion
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Youth and Population Momentum

At 1.05 billion, this is history's largest generation of young people between 15 and 24, and their number is rapidly expanding in many countries. It is critical that all societies address their education, health and employment needs. (1)

The reproductive behavior of these young people will determine the planet's future. If they are enabled to realize their potential, they will be a real "demographic bonus" ­ an unprecedented bulge of human resources for future development.

Ending Discrimination Against Girls Discrimination against girls and women is a persistent barrier to generational achievement. Several national declarations and treaties have labeled it a violation of human rights as well as a threat to development. Ending discrimination must be a priority worldwide.

  • Discrimination against girls often begins before birth in the preference for sons, and in too many places continues with denial of medical care and education and with forced teen or even preteen marriage, sex and pregnancy.
  • Women may be restricted to the home, sexually and physically abused without remedy, and denied rights to own or inherit property, to receive training or credit, or to take part in political and social discourse.
  • Girls may be prepared by their societies only to be mothers, restricted in education and employment. Boys may be prepared only to be providers and heads of families, restricted in emotional, communication and caring skills. At puberty, both girls and boys have specific needs that should be addressed.

Adolescents, more than other age groups, are exposed to reproductive health risks.

  • As the average age of marriage goes up worldwide, the period of sexual activity before marriage is increasing. But young people are often denied the information and the means they need to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  • Of the 260 million women aged 15-19 worldwide, about 11% (29 million) lack access to effective contraceptive protection. A majority of these (16.2 million) are married and say they want to delay childbirth; 9.8 million are unmarried and sexually active; 3.2 million are adolescents, both married and unmarried, who use traditional methods. (2)
  • Half of all new HIV infections occur in people aged 15-24. The infection rates among young women are higher than among young men. Marginalized young people, such as street children, show higher infection rates than do better-off young people. (2)

Providing Quality Information In most of Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle East, more than 60% of adolescents (often more than 80%) have heard of a modern method of family planning. (2) But that does not mean they have access to one, or that they always know how to use it properly. Better communication about sexuality, gender relations, unwanted pregnancy and STDs is essential if young people are to make responsible choices and broaden their life options.

  • A survey of secondary school students in Kenya found that only one in three males and one in four females knew that contraceptive pills had to be taken by the woman and not by the man. Even fewer knew the pills had to be taken daily, not just before sex. (2)
  • In Latin America, surveys show that 44% to 76% of the pregnancies of young unmarried women are unwanted. In Kenya, 74% of unmarried women aged 15-19 (and 47% of the married women) report their current pregnancy unwanted. (2)

Families remain the strongest influence on adolescents' behavior and choices, but traditional sources of sex and gender education - grandparents, teachers and community leaders ­ are losing influence to modern media culture and urbanization. Teens see their elders' lives and priorities as less relevant to their own. While teenagers and service providers may seek to avoid pregnancy and other consequences of sexual activity, their elders may see sexual activity itself as the problem.

  • Sex education does not increase promiscuity. Of 68 studies on family life and sex education in a scientific review, 65 found no associated increases in sexual behaviour. Of the 53 studies that evaluated specific interventions, 21 found that young people taking part in such programs had higher levels of abstinence, later start of sexual activity, higher use of contraceptives, fewer sexual partners and/or reduced rates of STDs and unplanned pregnancy. (3)

Broadening Sex Education Beyond the Schoolroom Sex education must not be restricted to school students. Not all young people are students, and in some countries they are not even the majority.

  • Restricting sex education to secondary schools further reduces those reached, because the gender gap in education is biggest in secondary school and a large percentage of girls will be missed. In many countries, students may also enter primary school as teenagers and go no further. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, a majority of adolescents in school are in primary schools. (4)
  • Mass media campaigns have succeeded in addressing some reproductive health needs, such as HIV/AIDS. Soap operas, comic books, posters, teenage magazines, drama and music are effective ways to inform young people. Surveys show they are especially useful when combined with training programs for young people who can then spread the word among their peers.

Sources: (1) UNFPA, State of the World Population 1998 (New York: UNFPA), p. 2; (2) Alan Guttmacher Institute, Into a New World (Washington DC: 1998); (3) UNFPA, State of the World Population 1998 (New York: UNFPA), p. 31; (4) Ibid., p. 32.

September 1999