General fact on adolescent
Half the people on earth are under 25. Some 1.8 billion are aged 10-25, history’s largest generation of adolescents, and about 85% live in the developing world.3
Most people become sexually active before their 20th birthday.4
IPPF’s work with young people empowers them and makes them less vulnerable, which ultimately strengthening societies.
Many societies disapprove of premarital sex and consider reproductive health care for young people inappropriate. As a result, parents, educators and health care providers often are unwilling to give young people the information and services needed.5
Married adolescent girls generally are unable to negotiate condom use or to refuse sexual relations. They are often married to older men with more sexual experience, which puts them at risk of contracting STIs, including HIV.
Teenage girls account for 14% of the estimated 20 million unsafe abortions performed each year, which result in some 68,000 deaths.11 Millions more suffer long-term disability.12
Studies suggest that 10 to 40% of young unmarried women have had an unintended pregnancy.
Complications during pregnancy and childbearing are the leading causes of death for girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries. They are twice as likely to die in childbirth as women in their 20s.19
Young people may hesitate to visit clinics because of lack of privacy and confidentiality, inconvenient locations and hours, high costs, limited contraceptive choices and supplies, and perhaps most importantly, negative or judgmental provider attitudes.20
Laws and policies also may restrict adolescents’ access to information and services by limiting family planning to married people or requiring parental or spousal consent.
HIV and AIDS
Young people are at the center of the AIDS epidemic. In 2008, young people accounted for 40% of all new HIV infections in 15-49 year olds and almost 3000 young people are infected with HIV each day.23 4.9 million of the 33.4 million people living with HIV are between 15-24. Although they show increasing rates of infection, young people also have the greatest potential for change.24 When young people are well informed of HIV risks and prevention strategies, they can change their behaviour in ways that reduce their vulnerability. 25 Recent evidence shows that HIV prevalence among young people in 15 countries most severely affected by HIV has dropped by over 25%
Sexual and Reproductive Health
Many young people still do not have access to high quality, youth friendly, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services.36
About 16 million women 15–19 years old give birth each year, about 11% of all births worldwide. Of these births, 95% occur in low- and middle-income countries.
The proportion of births that take place during adolescence is about 2% in China, 18% in Latin America and the Caribbean and more than 50% in sub-Saharan Africa.
In low- and middle-income countries, almost 10% of girls become mothers by age 16 years, with the highest rates in sub-Saharan Africa and south-central and south-eastern Asia.
Births to unmarried adolescent mothers are far more likely to be unattended by a skilled birth attendant and are more likely to end in induced abortion.
Coerced sex, reported by 10% of girls who first had sex before age 15 years, contributes to unwanted adolescent pregnancies.
Sexual rights are increasingly accepted, but the most conservative sectors continue to strongly oppose them, especially when talking about young people’s sexual rights. Many countries agree that it is necessary to decrease pregnancy and STIs among young people. However, there is a general disapproval and denial of young people’s sexual lives, their desires and their different sexual orientations, so the situation is neglected.
This disapproval is also present among young people themselves, because they tend to follow the dominant culture.
The difficulties are even more extensive, because the very idea that youth under the age 18 have rights is relatively new and was only established internationally in 1989, in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Young people’s sexual rights are different and more complex than adults’ sexual rights. One reason for this is the widespread denial of young people’s sexuality. There is a common misconception that young people are not, or should not be sexual beings with the exception of certain groups (married young people or young people above a certain age). Sexuality is a central aspect of being human during all phases of a person’s life.46
Young people’s sexual rights are particularly complex is because of the need to both protect and empower them. There is an assumption that young people are incapable of making decisions for themselves, so parents or other adults should have full authority over decisions related to their sexuality. Resistance to recognize young people’s sexuality and their decision-making abilities makes the realization of young people’s sexual rights all the more challenging
Young people and Comprehensive Sexuality Education
Young people face increasing pressures regarding sex and sexuality including conflicting messages and norms. On one hand, sex is seen as negative and associated with guilt, fear and disease, but through the media and friends it is portrayed as positive and desirable.
Such pressures may be perpetuated by a lack of accurate information, skills, and awareness of their rights and by gender expectations.
Young people may feel that they lack a voice in a debate which is about them, but rarely involves them, or that the reality of their lives and the development of their sexual identities are not understood. This results in many young people being either unable or reluctant to seek help when they need it, and may prevent them from giving input within policy and decision making processes.
Research is showing that high quality, comprehensive and rights-based sexuality education programmes can delay initiation of sexual activity and unprotected intercourse, decrease the number of sexual partners, increase contraceptive and condom use, and therefore decrease unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections among young people
Young people and contraception
Results show that young people across Asia Pacific, Europe and North America are not communicating effectively about contraception.
o More than one in 3 (36%) have unprotected sex, which can lead to unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) and HIV.
o Over one-third are not talking about contraception with their current sexual partner before having sex (35%).
o Over one-third believe highly unreliable contraceptive methods – such as the ‘withdrawal method’ – are effective (36%).
o One in 5 are using unreliable contraceptive methods (19%), across the three regions.