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Comprehensive Sexuality Education is Not a Fad
Political will for improving the health and rights of young people is increasing. We have seen the failure of abstinence-only programs to reduce rates of HIV infection and pregnancy among youth, and the evidence comprehensive sexuality education programs' success is growing.
International agreements—like the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the 45th Session of the Commission on Population and Development Resolution 2012/1—are also establishing global support for young people's right to access sexual and reproductive health information and services. These commitments have paved the way for a strong movement in Latin America and the Caribbean that advocates with governments for policies and programs recognizing and meeting the sexual and reproductive needs of youth.
At the same time, there is a growing consensus in Latin America that multi-sectoral strategies are needed to halt the HIV epidemic in the region. Many experts have called for an integrated approach that brings together the health and education sectors to provide youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and comprehensive sexuality education. Both are critical to ensuring young people are able to protect themselves from HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy.
Prior to the 2008 Ministerial Declaration, “Preventing through Education,” most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean had not launched national comprehensive sexuality education programs. Only 38% of in-school youth and 4% of those out-of-school had access to HIV prevention programs of any kind. However, our regional evaluation shows a positive increase in programmatic actions in the health and education sectors, and significant progress has been made toward the full implementation of the Ministerial Declaration's goals.
Programmatic actions in the health and education sectors, legislative changes, and constitutional court rulings represent significant progress in the advancement of comprehensive sexuality education and the expansion of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services. Yet despite this progress, there is a marked asymmetry when comparing the performances of the ministries of education and the ministries of health.
Our evaluation found that the average level of implementation for ministries of health was 66%, whereas the level of implementation is just 49% for ministries of education. The Ministerial Declaration favors collaboration among the education and health ministries, multilateral cooperation agencies, and civil society. It also calls on governments to involve youth in the development of policies that affect their lives. One youth advocate in Mexico illustrated this by saying:
Comprehensive sexuality education is not a fad; it’s a right young people have to make informed decisions about our bodies and the ways we express our sexuality. It means that our generation will not be condemned to ignorance, discrimination, HIV infection, and unwanted pregnancies. Comprehensive sexuality education is a part of the recognition we deserve as thinkers and autonomous beings who participate democratically in the policies and programs that affect us directly.
If governments work in synergy with civil society and young people, governments can meet the goals set out in the Ministerial Declaration in the next two years. Together, we can make sexual and reproductive rights and health a reality for every young person in the region.