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Is Puerto Rico Doing Its Best for Youth?
According to a report by the ACLU, Puerto Rico has the highest per capita rate in the world of women over 14 killed by their partners. Year after year, women and girls lose their lives, and we still do not have an effective answer to end gender-based violence. Violence against women and girls is just one example of the many social problems born out of gender inequality, a lack of comprehensive sexuality education, and machismo culture—but it is not alone.
Many young people in Latin America and the Caribbean face significant barriers to accessing comprehensive sexuality education and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services. As a result, there are an estimated 1.2 million unintended pregnancies among adolescent women living in the region each year. Young people are also at the center of the global HIV epidemic, comprising 40% of new infections, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
“Young people have the right to make informed decisions about our bodies and the ways we express our sexuality,” said Erick Monterrosas, evaluation officer at Demysex in Mexico. “Comprehensive sexuality education means our generation will not be condemned to ignorance, discrimination, HIV infection, and unwanted pregnancies.”
More than one in three young women in Latin America and the Caribbean gives birth before her 20th birthday. Many of these children grow up in poverty without access to health care. It is imperative for the Puerto Rican government, and governments across the rest of the region, to ensure the national sex education curriculum is comprehensive. It must include not only information about biology, but also about having equitable and healthy relationships, the importance of pleasure and consent, and the need for gender equality and human rights.
We cannot hope to eradicate these social ills through punitive sanctions without incorporating two of the most important and transformational elements first: prevention and education. In Puerto Rico, Senator Mari Tere González has proposed projects that would establish a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum within the public education system. This is a necessary step toward greater access to sexual and reproductive health information and services.
In August our government sent a delegation to the first session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Montevideo, Uruguay. The convening produced an historic agreement, the Montevideo Consensus, that recognizes the important connections between sexual and reproductive health and rights and the global development agenda, including comprehensive sexuality education for all young people.
The Montevideo Consensus urges governments to take immediate action. I hope this pledge is not forgotten, and that Puerto Rico will do its part to protect and advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights for our young people, particularly women and young girls. I have faith that my country will do its best.
Originally published by El Nuevo Día.