World population Day: Empowering Youth through improved sexual and reproductive health

7 Billion People on the EarthWorld population day 2014, commemorated on July 11, is an important day as it speaks to all mankind irrespective of geographical, economic, social and political differences. In sub-Saharan Africa, issues related to population growth mirror the challenges associated with ensuring reduced depletion of the available resources. The world population days theme 2014, “Investing in young people,” is very relevant for Africa where the youth population has the highest growth rate with a potential still unharnessed.Youth comprise of 20 per cent of Africa’s total population (200 million) and, in spite of their demographic significance, they continue to lack interventions for addressing their vulnerabilities to poverty and unemployment; limited access to education opportunities or poorly designed curricula; poor health outcomes, particularly sexual and reproductive complications, including HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs); conflict and break down of social norms and controls. Gender inequalities particularly place young women and girls in an extreme position with regard to these negative factors.African regional and national governments are aware of these realities and have purposely designed frameworks for reducing inequalities faced by this youthful population in development processes. For instance, African governments have strengthened, through commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), efforts for youth empowerment and development. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) 2004 framework also highlights the need to address young people’s interests. The July 2006 African Youth Charter, a political and legal framework providing guidance for addressing youth empowerment and development at continental, regional and national level and the 2008-2018 Decade of Youth Action Plan, which translates the charter into concrete actions, are also examples of this commitment. These efforts notwithstanding, trends in Africa point to the need for governments to commit to meaningful involvement of youth, through a more focused analysis of their specific needs so as to inform interventions that effectively address the youth. Youth, and more particularly women and girls, still encounter a myriad of complications related to their sexual and reproductive health, including early and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, HIV and AIDS and other STIs. Lack of age appropriate prevention and treatment services continue to have negative impacts on their sexual and reproductive health. These gaps worsen young girls’ susceptibility to early pregnancies, abortions and disabilities resulting from complications during delivery. In addition, young mothers loose opportunities to further their education in school and subsequently have little or no chances to have a sustainable livelihood.As a key actor in defending rights and promoting justice for marginalized and excluded communities, ACORD, through the Right to Health strategy, seeks to highlight the plight of youths’ sexual and reproductive health and rights. We believe that to address their needs, youth should be at the centre of the policies and programs developed to address their needs. After all they are best placed to address the issues that affect them. Their role in improving access to sexual and reproductive health cannot be ignored as emphasized by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon."On this World Population Day, I call on all with influence to prioritize youth in development plans, strengthen partnerships with youth-led organizations and involve young people in all decisions that affect them. By empowering today’s youth, we will lay the groundwork for a more sustainable future for generations to come."

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