Study: Ailing Stats on Global Teen Sex Health

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Twenty years after a major conference on reproductive health urged better sexual and reproductive health for global teens, a study offers disappointing statistics. Among the remedies: responsive parents and interventions aimed at those aged 10-14.

Credit: Chris Goldberg on Flickr, under Creative Commons

Twenty years after a major conference on reproductive health urged better sexual and reproductive health for global teens, a study offers disappointing statistics. Among the remedies: responsive parents and interventions aimed at those aged 10-14.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Twenty years after a major international gathering flagged the need for better sexual reproductive health services for the world’s teens, a Dec. 18 report in the Journal of Adolescent Health describes the degree to which that goal is unmet and urges remedies.

Among key findings:

  • An estimated 16 million births annually occur to young women aged 15-19, which represents 11 percent of all births in the world.
  • Of the estimated 22 million unsafe abortions that occur every year, 15 percent involve young women aged 15-19 and 26 percent involve those aged 20-24.
  • Adolescents and especially girls make up a large part of domestic violence victims globally, with an estimated 30 percent of them girls aged 15-19 years.
  • Globally, young women make up more than 60 percent of all young people living with HIV.

Lowering poverty rates would help improve these statistics, authors say. They cite, for instance, a large body of evidence from sub-Saharan Africa showing that young women aged 15-24 years are at increased risk of STIs, HIV and unwanted pregnancies, in part, because they exchange sex for money, basic necessities, school fees and other items like mobile phones.

Education is another key remedy, with authors citing research from Eastern, Southern and Central Africa that found that secondary education is strongly associated with decreased HIV rates and the reduction of risky sexual behavior.

The report comes 20 years after the U.N. coordinated the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, which set a goal of enabling adolescents–who make up one-fifth of the global population–to deal with their sexuality in a positive and responsible way.

Since then, several countries have conducted projects to meet that goal, but the report finds an insufficient mix of promising ideas and effective approaches for improving adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Many of the programs and projects were small in scale, short lived, poorly monitored, evaluated and documented.

But the study does find some common beacons for public health planners.

Communicative and responsive parents, for instance, are important to teens’ sexual health. Authors cite a parent-centered program to strengthen seventh graders’ families’ abilities to communicate with their teens conducted among low-income Latino households in Miami. After three years, youth in the intervention groups were less likely to report an STI and unprotected sex at last sex than peers in the two control conditions.

Boys and men are also seen as key to the development of equitable intimate relationships that involve mutual respect and support alternative norms and understandings of masculinity.

Media campaigns and large-scale communication programs can raise awareness and ignite discussions about adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health issues, authors also conclude.

The review underlines the need for interventions in early adolescence, for those aged 10-14, since these are formative years for norms and attitudes toward gender and sexuality.

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