APLAFA Fulfills the Sexual Rights of Panama's Youth

In Panama, many youth are categorically denied access to comprehensive sexuality education and the right to make decisions about their bodies. As a result, teenage pregnancy rates remain high. Although the government has signed various international commitments upholding the universal right to health care, Panamanian youth often face a different reality. Using diverse strategies to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services for Panamanian youth, IPPF/WHR’s Member Association, APLAFA, is working to address this challenge.

Not the typical picture of an auditor, 17-year-old Jesús Mosquera became an APLAFA volunteer to take action for his own sake and for the sake of his peers. After reviewing reproductive health policies and programs in Panama, and concluding that several key protocols were not being followed, APLAFA trained Jesús and 24 other volunteers to conduct a social audit of three health clinics. The goal was to assess whether these clinics were providing youth-friendly services in accordance with Panama’s national standards.

It was apparent to Jesús on his very first visit that young people were being denied their right to care. “Young people want to access this information confidentially, but one clinic was demanding the presence of an adult during professional counseling sessions,” he reported. “Requiring a parent or guardian results in young people not accessing information and services, which contributes to the high rates of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies in these localities.”

Jesús’ observations squared with his peers’ findings, and the audit demonstrated that clinics were not adequately providing youth-friendly services. When the audit results were presented to Ministry of Health and Director of Hospitals, they responded by signing an agreement to improve services and implement the auditors’ recommendations. Jesús and the other volunteers contributed to a huge success in securing the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents.

“[The audit] methodically exposed the deficiencies of the health system regarding youth-friendly services," explained Rubiela Sanchez, the Voices Project Coordinator at APLAFA. "It provided evidence of the gap between the norms for youth-friendly services and their implementation, and it generated concrete recommendations for the Ministry of Health to take to comply with the norms."

In response, the Ministry of Health created pilot programs to apply the recommendations and assess their effectiveness. By heeding the recommendations of APLAFA’s social auditing team, the Panamanian government has taken the first step toward honoring its commitments to young people’s sexual and reproductive rights.

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