JFJ/Observer Column Article – Healthy Sexual Growth and Development in Youth: Rights, Responsibilities and Life Skills

Healthy sexual growth and development in youth: Rights, responsibilities and life skills

Justice for One Justice for All
Thursday, May 29, 2014
SEXUAL and reproductive health is increasingly a matter of concern as there remains a high number of sexually active teens nationally, causing the reported cases of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) to rise.

Adolescents are among the most at risk for HIV due to a prevailing culture of multiple sex partners and inconsistent condom use. A Jamaican adolescent girl between 10 and 19 years is three times more likely to become infected with HIV than a boy of the same age. This may be as a result of early sexual initiation and high rates of forced sex reported by adolescent girls, as well as transactional sex — the high rate of sex with older men for financial gain, especially those who are infected with HIV. Persons under 19 years account for almost 10 per cent of all reported AIDS cases while 20 per cent are in the 20-29 years group having been suspected of contracting HIV in their adolescent years. (Statistics taken from — Reproductive Health Survey – Jamaica – 2008 — UNICEF).

Teen pregnancies indicate that a significant portion of youth is failing to take precautionary measures from contracting HIV. With the introduction of health and family life education curriculum in schools, inroads have been made on the issue of sexual awareness, attitudes and behaviour modification in youth but with the high prevalence of HIV infections and teen pregnancies based on the 2012 National Knowledge, Attitude, Practice and Behaviour survey which shows that there have been significant increases in risky behaviours of multiple partnerships, transactional sex and no improvements in inconsistent condom use, more work needs to be done especially from a rights and responsibility perspective.

Sexual and reproductive health is a human right. The realisation of sexual and reproductive rights is premised upon the fulfilment of those rights in international human rights instruments to which the Jamaican Government is a signatory. These include: the rights to life and survival; to the highest attainable standard of health; to non-discrimination especially on the basis of age and in the allocation of resources to health services, availability and accessibility; to information and of access to information; to education. Denying youth their right to realise healthy sexual growth and development means that these rights are affected, and HIV and AIDS incidence will continue to rise.

Despite the fact that the age of consent for sex is 16 years, the reality is that there are teens who are having sex before this age. Comprehensive education for youth development should therefore emphasise more than puberty and abstinence, but also rights, responsibility and skills (social, interpersonal, cognitive, emotional coping skills). There are some who think that teaching youth about contraceptives encourages them to have sex. However, it is equipping them with necessary information for the future as well as for the present as there are times when youth are prematurely thrust into sexual situations. In these instances, it is in their best interest to prioritise safe sex over abstinence to prevent the contraction of HIV or pregnancy.

Neglecting or discriminating against youth will only destabilise efforts to fight the HIV and AIDS epidemic, lead to unwanted socio-economic issues and increase dependency on the country’s health and welfare system. If these youth get rights and responsibility-based information, life skills, as well as the opportunities and services they need to handle the sexual and reproductive issues affecting them, then their vulnerability will be reduced.