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Investing in youth: the role of reproductive health Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by International Youth Development Forum IYDF, Nigeria Sep 9, 2002
Health , Child & Youth Rights   Opinions
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Think about this: 44% of the human faces that met the new millennium were less than 20 years old. The profound changes signaled by this demographic shift will challenge the human family in such areas as social stability, security, economic development, and the environment

Despite their fundamental importance, programs and policies for young people remain lacking. The needs of young people are often only recognized when it is too late: when they become pregnant, need abortions, or are infected with HIV or other STDS. Services — if provided — are delivered through conventional Maternal Child Health/Family Planning (MCH/FP) programs which are not specifically geared toward younger age groups.

It is time to end the cultural and policy silence surrounding young people's health and prevent young women and men's problems before they start. Young people comprise almost 30% of the world population, and are growing in number. By 2020, 87% of young people will be living in developing countries. A large percentage of these young people will be sexually active, not use adequate contraception, and suffer disproportionately from reproductive health problems including pregnancy-related complications, HIV/AIDS and STDS, and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Ensuring the reproductive health of young people makes social and economic sense: Health complications related to STDS, abortion, or teenage pregnancy can place a substantial burden on individual welfare and scarce government resources. Adolescent childbearing can lead to economic setbacks for young people, their communities, and the national economy. If adequate public investments are not made in the health of the younger generation, these personal and societal costs will only increase.


Low mortality rates among young people have falsely labeled them as a healthy age group. This traditional health indicator — often used by health planners, policymakers, researchers, and program staff — grossly underestimates that young people are disproportionately affected by reproductive health problems and ignores the future costs of morbidity.

High Prevalence of Sexual Activity
The majority of young people are sexually experienced by age 20. Much of this sexual activity takes place within marriage; however premarital sexual activity is common, varying among gender and within countries and regions.

Among unmarried adolescents, very few use contraception at first intercourse. Contraceptive use among married adolescents is lower in Sub-Saharan Africa than among unmarried teens. In Latin America, trends are variable. Little information exists about the contraceptive practices of unmarried youth in Asia. Whether married or not, young people who engage in sexual intercourse without contraception are at risk of adverse health effects.
Low Contraceptive Use

Although knowledge of contraception among young people is increasing, contraceptive use remains low among married and unmarried young women and men.
Increasing STD/HIV/AIDS infections

Sexually transmitted diseases are most common in youth ages 15-24. Incidence rates are higher among young women than men in countries where STDs are a major health problem.
In many developing countries up to 60% of all new HIV infections are among 15-24 year-olds. Approximately one-half of all people infected with HIV are under age 25. The majority of new infections will occur among young women.
Increasing Adolescent Pregnancies

Fertility rates for all women, including adolescents, are declining. However, growing population sizes will lead to an increase in adolescent births in many regions of the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, an approximate 23% increase in adolescent births is predicted for 1995-2020.

Unwanted Pregnancy and Pregnancy-Related Complications

Pregnancy in adolescence carries a relatively high risk of death or long-term complications.
Pregnant teens are more likely to suffer from malnutrition, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and eclampsia than women over age 20. In addition, an immature birth canal may prolong labor, increase the risk of vesicovaginal fistula, cause permanent damage to bladder and bowels and to the infant's brain, or lead to death of mother and child.
Young mothers, ages 15-19, are twice as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than women ages 20-24. The risk of death may be five times higher for girls ages 10-14 than for women 20-24.

Infant Mortality and Morbidity

The mortality and morbidity rates of infants of young mothers are higher than for older mothers.
Abortion Complications

Young women suffer disproportionately from abortion complications.
Teenagers are more likely than older women to have clandestine or illegal abortions because of legal, social and financial reasons. Estimates of abortions performed on teenage women range from 1 to 4.4 million. Data from 13 studies in seven Sub-Saharan African countries show that adolescents comprised 39-72% of all cases of abortion-related complications. Female Genital Mutilation

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Jerry Welch | Sep 8th, 2003
No one "needs" an abortion. And you wonder why sexual diseases spread. The removal of the premarital sex taboo has cost more lives and health than can be recovered.

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