At 1.8 million, they are a significant component of the world’s population. Yet when it comes to family planning, services for adolescents are patchy in many parts of the world. And ignoring this is a serious violation of their human rights.
This is one of the central messages of the 2016 International Conference on Family Planning currently on in Bali, Indonesia.
There is growing recognition the world over that including adolescents in health services is key to any country’s economic progress. Hence, giving them access to contraceptive services, addressing myths and misconceptions and striking down laws and policies that restrict their ability to exercise choices is critical.
“This is a never before moment in adolescent health” said Dr V Chandramouli, scientist at the WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research. “We need to ask hard questions now”.
Speaking at the opening session of the second day of the ICFP, Dr Chandramouli said the way forward was to make existing health centers in different countries adolescent-friendly rather than set up specific youth centers.
“Separate centers for adolescents are neither necessary nor sustainable”, he said. “Instead make health workers at these centers adolescent friendly. “ This he said should be done through a package of actions which includes good quality training, supportive supervision and collaborative learning.
How these messages are framed is also important. “Adolescents are discovering their bodies and this is a joyful, exciting process for them. They need health workers to help them and not always frame answers in the context of HIV”.
However, this approach calls for a rethink in how many countries approach sexuality education, which is banned in many states across India.
“The Indian government and policymakers are not seeing sex as a health, development and human rights issue”, says Ramya Jawahar, Vice Chair, International Youth Alliance of Family Planning. “They believe that if sexuality education is taught in schools, it will encourage promiscuity.”
This belief that is not backed by any data; on the contrary, various studies have shown that empowering youth with information on family planning brings down unintended pregnancies by as much as 80%. Denying them this information, on the other hand, puts them at health risk.