Press Release

Adolescents Need Access to Reproductive Health Information and Services, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid Stresses

10 May 2002
Author: UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, New York--It is crucial that the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children reaffirm governments' commitment to ensure that young people have access to youth-friendly reproductive health information and services, Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told a press conference here Wednesday.

"In today's world, access to information, education and services will protect girls against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and it is really a matter of life and death for them," Ms. Obaid declared. She was joined by Timothy Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation.

Ms. Obaid's opening remarks at the 8 May press conference were amplified in her statement to the Special Session, which Deputy Executive Director Kunio Waki delivered on her behalf yesterday.

Each year, 15 to 17 million adolescent girls become pregnant and 4.4 million resort to abortion, with fully 40 per cent of such procedures being performed under unsafe conditions, Ms. Obaid said at the press conference. In addition, 82 million girls between ages 10 and 17 get married, more than 50,000 adolescent girls became afflicted with obstetric fistula and thousands of adolescents - most of them female - become newly infected daily with HIV/AIDS.

The sexual and reproductive health of adolescents is a very sensitive issue, she noted, but it is also an issue on which the world's leaders have already agreed.

"At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), 179 governments explicitly affirmed the needs and rights of adolescents to reproductive health information, education and services, with the support and guidance of their parents in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child," she pointed out.

That consensus was reaffirmed in Beijing at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, and strengthened in 1999 and 2000 at the five-year reviews of the Cairo and Beijing meetings.

Progress has been made since the Cairo conference, she said. Governments and the civil society around the world have spearheaded bold initiatives to delay marriage and pregnancy for girls, to ban harmful traditional practices, and to counter child abuse and violence.

UNFPA has been at the forefront of initiatives to promote responsible and healthy reproductive and sexual behaviour, including voluntary abstinence, and the provision of appropriate services and counselling.

"In countries around the world, the Fund supports programmes that provide young people with information and services to reduce unwanted pregnancies, and the resulting recourse to unsafe abortion, and to help them avoid sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS," stated Ms. Obaid. These programmes use peer counselling and a variety of other approaches to reach youth in and out of school.

She reminded correspondents that the ICPD made it clear that abortion was not a form of family planning, adding that making reproductive health services available reduces the incidence of abortion.

Are children under age 18 better off today than they were at the time of the World Summit on Children? Twelve years later, the answer is "mixed", Mr. Wirth of the United Nations Foundation told the press conference. On the positive side of the ledger, there have been significant gains in the health and well-being of young children under age10 as infant mortality has been reduced, polio has almost been eradicated, immunizations are up and the incidence of measles is down.

There has been far less progress, however, in addressing the circumstances and needs of those children in the second decade of life, he stated.

Today, there are more than 1 billion children between ages 10 and 18, said Mr. Wirth.

"Their fates and the decisions that they make in the years to come will determine, in large part, the demographic, economic and political future of this century. That is why it is so important that the Special Session on Children makes clear progress in advancing the rights of children and ensuring that their needs are met in coming years."

During the Special Session, Ms. Obaid also took part in several public events, including a UNFPA-organized briefing on obstetric fistula, a debilitating condition caused by complications during childbirth; and a panel discussion entitled "Young People Partnering for Healthy Futures: Implementing the ICPD Programme of Action", sponsored by the Government of the Netherlands, UNFPA and Family Care International, a nongovernmental organization.

-- -- --

UNFPA is the world's largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, it has provided some $5.6 billion to developing countries to meet reproductive health needs and support sustainable development efforts.

The United Nations Foundation was established in 1998 to administer the gift of $1 billion made by businessman Ted Turner to support the United Nations and its work.


Contact Information:

Abubakar Dungus
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-5031

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