UNFPAState of World Population 2004
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HOME: STATE OF WORLD POPULATION 2004: Adolescents and Young People
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Adolescents and Young People

Implementing the ICPD Consensus
Second Generation of Programmes
UNFPA Global Survey Findings
Role of NGOs
Key Health and Development Concerns
Meeting Young People’s Needs
Promoting Healthier Behaviour
Youth-friendly Services
Legal Progress
Key Challenges

Ensuring the health and well-being of the world’s adolescents and young people, equipping them with life skills, and creating educational and employment opportunities for them is a fundamental necessity in meeting the development challenges of the 21st century. The ICPD gave unprecedented attention to adolescents’ diverse needs with regard to reproductive health, as both a human rights priority and a practical necessity.

Since 1994 and especially in the past few years, countries have made significant progress in addressing the often-sensitive issues of adolescent reproductive health, including needs for information, education and services that will enable young people to prevent unwanted pregnancy and infection. Increasingly, these efforts are being undertaken as part of a wider, holistic approach that aims to reach young people in diverse situations and equip them to shape their own future.

But enormous challenges remain. One person in five—1.3 billion in all—is an adolescent (defined as ages 10-19), part of the largest youth generation in history. Half are poor, and one fourth live on less than $1 per day. Many are sexually active, often without the power, knowledge or means to protect themselves, or the opportunity to direct their energies to more productive areas of their lives.

Young people (15-24) account for half of all new HIV infections, 2.5 million each year, with girls and young women especially at risk. Despite a trend towards later marriage in much of the world, millions of girls are still expected to marry and begin child-bearing in their teens, often before their bodies are ready.

ADOLESCENTS AND THE MDGs. Enabling youth to delay pregnancy is not only a health and human rights imperative; it is also a key to slowing the continuing momentum of population growth and allowing developing countries to reap the economic benefits that lower fertility can bring, and should be given priority in the global effort to eradicate poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (see Chapter 2).

Investing in young people’s health, education and skills development, and allowing girls to stay in school and marry later, are also essential to meeting the MDGs related to gender equality, child mortality, maternal health and HIV/AIDS.

Implementing the ICPD Consensus

The ICPD addressed adolescent reproductive health issues including unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion and STIs, including HIV/AIDS, through the promotion of responsible and healthy reproductive and sexual behaviour, including voluntary abstinence, and the provision of appropriate services and counselling specifically suited for that age group. It also aimed to substantially reduce all adolescent pregnancies.1

ADOLESCENTS’ REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH NEEDS

The reproductive health needs of adolescents as a group have been largely ignored to date by existing reproductive health services. The response of societies to the reproductive health needs of adolescents should be based on information that helps them attain a level of maturity required to make responsible decisions. In particular, information and services should be made available to adolescents to help them understand their sexuality and protect them from unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and subsequent risk of infertility. This should be combined with the education of young men to respect women’s self-determination and to share responsibility with women in matters of sexuality and reproduction.

—from ICPD Programme of Action, para. 7.41.

The Programme of Action recognized that poor educational and economic opportunities, gender-based violence, early pregnancy and sexual exploitation increase the vulnerability of adolescents, especially girls, to reproductive health risks. It urged governments and the international community to ensure that all adolescents have access to age-appropriate reproductive health information, education, and services, respecting their right to privacy and confidentiality and ensuring that health provider attitudes or other barriers (laws, regulations, or social customs) do not restrict that access. It also called for parents and families, communities, religious institutions, schools, the mass media and peer groups to be involved in meeting adolescents’ reproductive health needs.(2)

NEW BENCHMARKS. The 1999 review of ICPD implementation found that young people’s reproductive rights and health needs still remained largely neglected, and were an increasing concern in the face of rising HIV infection rates.(3) New targets were set, including a 25 per cent reduction in HIV prevalence among those aged 15-24, by 2005 in the most-affected countries and by 2010 globally. It was also agreed that the vast majority of those aged 15 to 24 (90 per cent by 2005 and 95 per cent by 2010) should have access to the information, education and services necessary to develop the life skills required to reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection.(4)

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