Report finds gaps in Asia-Pacific sex education

Angus Morgan

02 February, 2016

IMAGE: The UNFPA report focuses on 15-24-year-olds throughout Asia and the Pacific

A Burnet Institute report prepared for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), has found that more of the nearly one billion young people in the Asia and Pacific region are having sex before marriage than ever before.

Yet many of these 15 to 24-year-olds find information on sexual and reproductive health difficult to access, and lack the critical life-skills needed to manage safe, consensual sexual relationships.

The report, “Sexual and reproductive health of young people in Asia and the Pacific: A review of issues, policies and programmes” was commissioned in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia Regional Office.

It calls on countries in the region to urgently expand and improve sexual and reproductive health services as well as comprehensive sexuality education for young people.

According to lead researcher, Dr Elissa Kennedy, Burnet Principal-Maternal and Child Health, many youth also face major physical, socio-economic and cultural barriers to accessing services.

“An increasing number of young people in the region are sexually active, even though there are still really strong social, cultural and religious taboos around pre-marital sex,” Dr Kennedy said.

“So we are finding with globalisation and urbanisation and access to media, young people’s attitudes, behaviours and values are changing much more rapidly than their parents’ and policy makers'.

“This sets up a really big mismatch of what young people are doing, what they need and what communities and policy makers think they should get.

“You end up with this unmet need for information and services around sexual and reproductive health.

“The report covers 32 countries, so there is enormous diversity, but there are some really common challenges for all young people in the region.”

Among the report’s findings …

  • Almost 11 million unsafe abortions took place in the region in 2015, and 34 per cent of these were performed on women under 25 years of age.

  • Up to 63 per cent of adolescent pregnancies in Asia-Pacific are unintended, leading to further, larger numbers of unsafe abortions, which are often unreported.

  • Up to 10 percent of males and 20 percent of females aged 15-24 report having had a sexually transmitted infection or symptoms in the last 12 months.

  • An estimated 620,000 youth (15-24) are living with HIV across the region.

  • More than 30 per cent of girls aged 15-19 had experienced physical or sexual violence in four countries: the Marshall Islands, Pakistan, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu.

The report recommends governments launch more and better research to address knowledge gaps, especially research on young, unmarried and sexually active young people, including adolescents aged 10-14.

It calls for increased efforts to build a supportive environment for young people’s sexual and reproductive health to address socio-cultural barriers, laws and policies, and earlier comprehensive sexuality education that reaches everyone.

“Access to comprehensive information and also education programs that build skills for young people is important,” Dr Kennedy said.

“It’s not just about knowledge; they need skills to negotiate peer pressure, and communications skills, condom skills.

“Comprehensive sex education should be around anatomy and biology and puberty, talking about the consequences of unsafe sex and talk about how to have safe sex, but also addressing things like relationships, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation.

“This is the next step they need to go to be effective, because it’s sensitive and because teachers are not sure if they have the support of parents and the communities, they feel ill-equipped to deliver that information.”

To download the report, click here.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Doctor Elissa Kennedy

Co-Program Director, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health; Co-Head Global Adolescent Health




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