Making the Case for Youth Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Cecilia Espinoza, Guest Contributor

In 2009, L.C., a 13-year-old girl living in Peru was raped. When she discovered she was pregnant, L.C. jumped from the roof of her house in an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide. Due to her injuries, she needed surgery, but doctors would not perform it because she was pregnant, nor would they allow her access to a therapeutic abortion, although that would have been legal.

It was only after L.C. had a miscarriage that doctors were willing to give her the surgery she needed. L.C. was operated on nearly three and a half months after her injuries. Due to her condition, she is still unable to attend school.

When the United Nations Committee that reviews Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) considered her case, the Committee concluded that the State must establish a mechanism for effective access to therapeutic abortion in a manner that protects the physical and mental health of women and prevents the future occurrence of similar violations.

In 1994, the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo established important agreements for human development for young people, especially young women, and further progress is needed to achieve full recognition of the sexual and reproductive rights of young people.

Pregnancy and childbirth-related complications continue to be one of the leading causes of death for women ages 15 to 19. The United Nations estimates that more than 14 million young women give birth each year, and over 90 percent of these young women live in developing countries. Prevention of young women’s unwanted pregnancies is essential to reduce pregnancy and childbirth complications and death. If contraception were accessible and used consistently and correctly by women wanting to avoid pregnancy, maternal deaths would decline by an estimated 25 to 35 percent.

It is important to recognize the progress made over the last decades on comprehensive sex education, access to contraception, and legalization of abortion. But there is still much to do. In this regard, governments should promote education for adolescents and young people both in and outside of the school system, and access to science-based information and counseling services to prevent unwanted pregnancies. It is equally important that adolescents and young people have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion.

At the same time, it is essential to support parents so they have the information and communication tools necessary to guide their children during adolescence and youth, while respecting their ability to make decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health. Barriers to care - including those related to consent by parents or partners - should also be removed in order to expand young people’s access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services that are provided in a manner that respects adolescents’ and young people’s evolving capacities and privacy.

It is critical to include young people’s voices in the development of these different strategies. Active and meaningful youth participation helps to ensure that programs and projects designed for this population will successfully meet their needs.

Girls like L.C. deserve governments that respect, protect and support the sexual and reproductive rights of its youngest citizens, because the leaders of tomorrow are being formed today.

Cecilia Espinoza is the Youth Program Associate at Ipas. This blog is adapted from the Oral Statement she delivered on behalf of Ipas at the 45th Session of the Commission of Population and Development.


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