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We need to advance young people’s SRHR in Asia and the Pacific

Monday, May 31, 2021

International News

“While some progress has been made, we still have a long way to go.” That’s the main message from a new report on the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people in Asia and the Pacific.

Commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Asia-Pacific Regional Office, the report “My body is my body, my life is my life” provides an update on their 2015 report highlighting the current status of young people’s SRHR across Asia and the Pacific and examines how well they are being supported. 

We need to take notice. Today’s generation of young people is the largest in human history: globally, 1.8 billion people are aged between 10-24 years, accounting for a quarter of the world’s population. 60% live in Asia and the Pacific.

Young people today face a variety of multifaceted issues in an increasingly complex world. While some problems aren’t new, technology advances have exacerbated issues they face. Experience of gender, racial and ethnic discrimination remains, and poverty and limited access to information and services are major barriers to good health outcomes for a significant proportion of young people globally.

When it comes to sexual and reproductive health (SRH), the report illustrates that “young people globally experience a disproportionate burden of poor SRH including high rates of early and unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, and violence. Two thirds of young people in Asia and the Pacific live in countries where adolescents face a large and complex burden of disease, including a high burden and mortality from poor SRH.”

The report provides a snapshot of young people’s SRH in Asia and the Pacific. Findings include:

  • 1 in 3 women (34 million) aged 15-24 do not have their demand for family planning satisfied by modern methods
  • Less than 1 in 4 sexually active unmarried adolescents are using a modern method of contraception
  • In the majority of countries, less than half of 15-24 year olds with multiple sexual partners used a condom at last sex, signifying substantial sexual health risk for both boys and girls
  • Around 1 in 8 births to adolescent girls aged 15-19 years are unintended
  • There are an estimated 3.6 million unsafe abortions each year among women aged 15-24 years
  • Maternal disorders are the leading cause of death of girls aged 15-19 years in the Pacific, and the second leading cause of death in South Asia
  • One in two 15-24-year-old women in the Pacific, 1 in 4 in South Asia, and 1 in 6 in Southeast Asia have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence
  • 1 in 2 adolescent girls report at least one serious problem accessing health care.

While the report identifies that progress has been made in addressing issues in some areas through introduced legislation, policies and programmes, it concludes that “weak systems and poor integration across sectors, entrenched gender inequality, and stigmatisation of adolescent sexuality outside of marriage continue to deny young people access to essential SRH information and services, and limits their agency with respect to their own SRH.”

“In many areas we still have a long way to go, particularly in meeting the needs of sexually active adolescents… Adolescents’ evolving capacity and their rights are simply not being realised.” Björn Andersson, Regional Director (UNFPA) Asia-Pacific Regional Office.

The report calls for urgent action to increase young people’s access to crucial SRH health care and information. Support needs to be tailored to meet the needs of different communities and it recommends the “full and meaningful participation of young people in the development, implementation and evaluation of policies and programmes if SRH and rights are to be realised for all young people in Asia and the Pacific.”

Just as it is for New Zealand’s young people, good SRH for young people in Asia and the Pacific is vital for their healthy development and overall state of wellbeing.

You can read the full report here.

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