Report of the Round Table on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights: Key Future Actions

New York, 14-17 April 1998

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Round Table on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health met to review progress made towards the implementation of the recommendations of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, identify constraints and propose key future actions. These findings will be reported to the more than 120 countries that will attend the ICPD+5 International Forum in February 1999, and to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the review and appraisal of the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action on 30 June-2 July 1999.

Adolescent Reproductive Health in Today's World

The Round Table noted the importance of current adolescent sexual and reproductive health concerns. The world now has the largest group of adolescents in history, with some 85 per cent living in developing countries. Changing conditions have brought risks as well as opportunities. While early marriage and some harmful traditional practices are diminishing, measures to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among adolescents remain inadequate, and there is an alarming rise in HIV infection among young people. In addition to these reproductive health issues, which are beginning to be better documented, there remain areas of special concern which need more research and policy consideration. These include sexual abuse and exploitation, including trafficking, of children and youth.

Progress Since the 1994 ICPD

The consensus of the Round Table was that considerable progress has been achieved on a number of fronts. The rights to reproductive health of adolescents are gradually being realized, and more countries are formulating policies and initiating effective programming. Increased programme evaluation has created a consensus around principles for effective action. A holistic and integrated approach to the reproductive health needs of young people is now recognized as the surest way to protect and enhance sexual and reproductive health. Adolescent participation in the process is gradually increasing and gender equality has improved. Emphasis is being placed on fostering a safe and supportive environment in both the home and work environments, and to make information, education, counselling and health services more accessible to adolescents. Cross sectoral collaboration has increased as well. There is more cooperation across disciplines and among different organizations, with greater private sector involvement.

Constraints and Approaches to Overcome Them

Resistance to providing information and services to address the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents has deterred young people from seeking help. Programmes are too narrowly focused and often do not engage young people in their

work or in their natural settings. Financial constraints prevent successful projects from being sustained, expanded or replicated. Poverty remains a formidable enemy of health. Action is needed to strengthen the knowledge and skills of people in local communities as they struggle to create a more enabling environment. Differences can diminish if people unite around the well-being of their adolescent children. Coalitions can be created in communities, and mechanisms established for cooperation among government, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, international agencies and the donor community. Research is needed to expand knowledge of effective programmes that can sustain and expand action on a scale large enough to meet the needs of adolescents, including those marginalized by poverty and lack of education. Better indicators of adolescent development will help stimulate and measure progress. Resources for innovative strategies and initiatives should be more accessible to young people engaged as partners with adults.

Key Future Actions

The Round Table participants placed special emphasis on taking action to foster an enabling environment by targeting adults in their communities. They also favoured greater emphasis on promoting a holistic and integrated approach to adolescents, without losing sight of the central importance of their sexual and reproductive health. The participants gave special attention to cooperation across sectors, especially with the private sector, the establishment of coalitions, converting adversaries to allies, and strengthening the knowledge base for better policy, programming and advocacy. The key suggestions made by the Round Table participants, include the following:

  • Equip adults to better help adolescents
  • Expand national policies and implement rights
  • Increase and sustain youth participation
  • Establish better indicators of progress
  • Conduct more evaluation of initiatives
  • Encourage cost-sharing and innovative financing

Conclusions

The Round Table concluded that considerable progress has occurred since the ICPD. People are more committed to seeing that adolescents exercise their rights to sexual and reproductive health. Effective action has increased in most countries, and a strong and growing consensus has arisen around key principles of what works. Increased recognition is being given to the vital importance of the healthy development of adolescents in achieving sexual and reproductive health and to the need for integrated approaches. This cannot be done without adults from all sectors creating an environment conducive for the provision of information, education, skills, counselling and services for adolescents.

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