Youth Speak Out for Reproductive Rights

9 May 2002
Author: UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, New York - Young adults challenged policy makers at a panel today to listen to the needs and concerns of adolescents when designing policies on reproductive and sexual health, and emphasized the need to foster access to reproductive health information and services for young adults.

Panellist Nicole Bidegain, a member of the Latin American and Caribbean Youth Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Speaking at an event organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on the occasion of the United Nations Special Session on Children, the youth's concerns were amplified by Eveline Herfkens, Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid and Jill Sheffield, President of Family Care International. In attendance were ministers, ambassadors and other official delegates from various countries, as well as NGO, donor and United Nations partners.

"We are here, organized at the UN, and mobilized to change the policies that affect us directly. We are doing things, not just talking about them," declared Nicole Bidegain, a 17-year-old member of the Latin American and Caribbean Youth Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, from Uruguay.

Panellist Momir Pantelic, a medical student and member of the Yugoslavian Youth Against HIV/AIDS

"Young people are not passive participants," asserted Priyanka Debnath, an 18-year-old member of the Family Planning Association of Bangladesh. "They can become active participants if given an enabling environment," she continued.

Momir Pantelic, a 23-year-old medical student from Yugoslavia and a member of the Yugoslavian Youth against HIV/AIDS explained: "Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and maybe I'll remember. Involve me, then I'll understand."

Panellist Priyanka Debnath of the Family Planning Association in Bangladesh

The youth panellists shared their personal experiences in increasing access to life skills, empowerment, and sexual and reproductive health. They highlighted the importance of peer education, youth participation in development, challenging gender stereotypes and empowerment to the exercise of rights and choice. There was also a strong agreement on the importance of comprehensive sexuality education and a rejection of programmes that focus on abstinence only.

"Preaching abstinence just doesn't work. Abstinence didn't teach me to be bold, to make my own decision," stated Unoma Madunagu, a 20-year-old member of Girl's Power Initiative in Nigeria. "Because of all of the information I was provided at Girls's Power Initiative, I decided on abstinence. But not because it was preached to me," she continued.

More than 1 billion young people today are between the ages of 15 and 24. Adolescents often receive inadequate education, guidance and services to help them make their transition to adulthood. In many cases, adolescents are denied complete access to reproductive health information and services. With limited knowledge about sexuality, adolescents become vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, sexual exploitation and violence.

For many young people, protecting reproductive health is a matter of life and death. UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid pointed out that 7,000 young people contract HIV every day. "There is some progress," she stated, "but we still have long way to go."

The international community agreed at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, and again in 1995, 1999 and 2000, that adolescents have a right to information about sexuality, as well as access to reproductive health services.

"Health is not a privilege, it is a right. The right to health includes the right to sexual and reproductive rights. These rights have been accepted by most countries of the world. We must now work hard to fulfil these rights," stated Eveline Herfkens, Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands.

Contact Information:

William A. Ryan
Tel.: +66 2 288 2446

Population : 17.1 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 93%
Girls 94%

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