Across the globe, adults wring their hands over the behavior of young people, yet are often unable to communicate effectively with them about their sexual and reproductive lives. Parents, teachers and other adults widely fail to prepare young people with the information, skills and resources needed to chart a steady, healthy course through the transition to adulthood. Parents’ difficulties in managing their own sexuality, combined with cultural beliefs about parenting, sexuality, and gender all constrain their ability to prepare young people. Failing to provide critical information, skills and support to young people sends them out into the world inadequately prepared for life.
Since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, the effect of an “enabling environment” on individuals’ capacity to make healthful decisions has been more clearly understood. Social constraints affect the ability of the world’s 1.7 billion young people to access services and other supports. National policies must acknowledge and address the linkages between gender-based expectations for schooling and pregnancy decision making, for example, and between job prospects and sexual risk taking. Policies play an important role in stimulating use of information and services by removing the social, legal and programmatic obstacles to youth reproductive health.
Young people are individuals entitled to rights, and key players in their own development. Yet they continue to be viewed as incomplete human beings, lacking the capacity for intelligent decision making and in need of adult protection from, rather than preparation for, the world in which they live.
This report contrasts the ways in which policies in Ghana, India, Iran, Mali, Mexico, the Netherlands and the United States have supported young people’s sexual and reproductive lives. Of specific interest here are either expressly formulated youth policies at the national or provincial level, or youth policies incorporated in legislation regulating access to education, social services, marriage, employment, and age of consent, among other things. The report urges national and international policymakers concerned with the wellbeing of young people to explicitly address their sexual and reproductive health needs, preferably in the context of broad policies that take into account the linkages between many aspects of their lives. Nations must rise to the promise of their vision in Cairo, fulfill their commitments, and address the needs of young people, in this generation.