As we celebrate the international Youth Day 2018, we should be reminded that youth need safe spaces where they can come together, engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participate in decision making processes and freely express themselves. Safe spaces devoid of stigma will ensure the dignity and safety of youth. Furthermore, safe spaces such as civic spaces enable youth to engage in issues related to governance and make positive contributions towards influencing policies as it meets their needs. Other spaces such as digital spaces help youth interact virtually across borders ; and well planned physical spaces can help accommodate the needs of diverse youth especially those vulnerable to marginalization, violence or living with disability.
On September 25th 2015, 17 sustainable development goals were adopted by 193 member states of the United Nations that aim to eliminate poverty and hunger, protect the environment from climate change, achieve gender equality and raise living standards by 2030. The goals have been set, but things left with the task of achieving these goals are young people.
Reports indicate that the largest population of youth is concentrated in Asia and the Pacific with a steady rise in Africa. And of the total population of young people who make up 60 percent of the world’s population, about 85 percent of this number live in developing countries. Nearly half (45.9 percent) live in low-income countries, while another third (34.1 percent) live in lower middle-income countries. The remaining fifth (20 percent) of youth live in upper middle- and high-income countries. This highlights the uneven distribution of young people across the world and the burden it places on achieving the global goals.
Today, millions of young people face the prospect of early marriage, early childbearing, lack of education and the threat of HIV and AIDS. Youths, especially adolescents, are faced with challenges of (dis)orientation and discovery about sex and sexuality. This puts them at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV; and unplanned and early pregnancies with associated negative consequences.
For young people, their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are a crucial part of their lives – whether they are sexually active or not. This so acknowledged by the current need for access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. Current evidence across the world shows that there are critical challenges faced by youths in accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services. These challenges are high in developing countries where the peculiarity of unfriendly and unprofessional and unfavorable policies impede progress. Furthermore, poor parent/child communication; and the lack of effective reporting by the media has contributed to the existing gap in young people accessing essential sexual and reproductive health information and services. The evidence also suggests that adolescents opt to talk to their peers about issues of sex and sexuality despite the fact that the information they get from them is sometimes misleading or inadequate. Young people have urgent and vast needs for policies and programs that ensure their improved sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
We need safe spaces that will aid youth development, improving services for young people, and encourage youth participation in programs will help all young people to lead healthier and more productive lives.
Written by Raymond Ukwa,