Young people are defined as those aged 10 to 24 years. This group includes adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years as well as youth aged from 15 to 24 years. It is in this age range that most young people begin to actively explore their sexuality and, therefore, require sexual and reproductive health information and services.
Although young people have sexual and reproductive health rights, society has in most cases ignored this aspect, often perceiving them as “young” in the sense that they do not, or should not even have any sexual reproductive health needs at all. Evidence shows us that the sexual and reproductive health rights of young people are important and should be made a priority.
Ignoring the sexual and reproductive health rights of young people will not stop them from having sex or even early pregnancies. Similarly, it does not imply that they are too young to make reproductive health decisions. On almost daily basis, we see young people making reproductive health decisions. Unfortunately, many times these decisions are based on ignorance and lack of information. For instance, the fact that in Uganda one in four teenage girls (24 per cent) has had a baby or is pregnant shows that teenage girls are sexually active. Denying them their rights to reproductive health information and services, including family planning, is wrong.
According to a study carried out by the World Health Organisation in 2006, if the sexual reproductive health needs of young people are to be met, there should be a focus on training service providers, improving health facilities as well as informing and mobilising communities to generate demand and community support.
Community mobilisation works as an avenue for creating awareness in the community so as to create a supportive environment for the youth to freely access sexual reproductive health services. Mobilisation and sentisation, however, can only work if complimented with building community support, which is a prerequisite if we are to ensure that young people freely access reproductive health services.
This approach requires a comprehensive approach that involves interventions targeting three audiences, including the young people, their parents or care takers, teachers for those in school as well as health providers who could also help the youth out of school.
Notable among the successful interventions to increase community support include sensitisation programmes such mass media outreaches that involve the youth, parents, teachers and community leaders. Others include community education or information sessions, which should be carried out in locations close to health facilities so that in case the young people need to access services, they are referred to the facilities in close proximity to where they are.
Such interventions often have a positive impact on both the young people and the wider community as they promote dialogue among both groups, encouraging young people to utilise the services provided without feeling judged.
Communities, therefore, need to be mobilised to join efforts geared towards providing services to meet the sexual reproductive health needs of young people. This in the end will create opportunities for increased demand for the services as well as an enabling environment where young people will feel that they can freely access these services without being judged by their families and communities.