Adolescence, spanning 10 to 19 years of age, begins with biological changes while transitioning from a social status of a child to an adult. For millions of adolescents in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), this is a period of exposure to vulnerabilities and risks related to sexual and reproductive health (SRH), compounded by challenges in having their SHR needs met. Globally, adolescent sexual and reproductive ill-health disease burden is concentrated in LMICs, with sexually transmitted infections and complications from pregnancy and childbirth accounting for the majority of the burden. Adolescents around the world are using their voices to champion access to high-quality, comprehensive SRH information and services. Thus, it is imperative that adolescents’ SRH and rights be reinforced and that investments in services be prioritized.
Ndola Prata and Karen Weidert
Shireen Jejeebhoy, K. G. Santhya, and A. J. Francis Zavier
India has demonstrated its commitment to improving the sexual and reproductive health of its population. Its policy and program environment has shifted from a narrow focus on family planning to a broader orientation that stresses sexual and reproductive health and the exercise of rights. Significant strides have been made. The total fertility rate is 2.2 (2015–2016) and has reached replacement level in 18 of its 29 states. The age structure places the country in the advantageous position of being able to reap the demographic dividend. Maternal, neonatal, and perinatal mortality have declined, child marriage has declined steeply, contraceptive use and skilled attendance at delivery have increased, and HIV prevalence estimates suggest that the situation is not as dire as assumed earlier. Yet there is a long way to go. Notwithstanding impressive improvements, pregnancy-related outcomes, both in terms of maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity, remain unacceptably high. Postpartum care eludes many women. Contraceptive practice patterns reflect a continued focus on female sterilization, limited use of male methods, limited use of non-terminal methods, and persisting unmet need. The overwhelming majority of abortions take place outside of legally sanctioned provider and facility structures. Over one-quarter of young women continues to marry in childhood. Comprehensive sexuality education reaches few adolescents, and in general, sexual and reproductive health promoting information needs are poorly met. Access to and quality of services, as well as the exercise of informed choice are far from optimal. Inequities are widespread, and certain geographies, as well as the poor, the rural, the young, and the socially excluded are notably disadvantaged. Moving forward and, in particular, achieving national goals and SDGs 3 and 5 require multi-pronged efforts to accelerate the pace of change in all of these dimensions of health and rights.
Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is increasingly accepted as the most preferred way of structurally enhancing young peoples’ sexual and reproductive well-being. A historical development can be seen from “conventional,” health-based programs to empowerment-directed, rights-based approaches. Notably the latter have an enormous potential to enable young people to develop accurate and age-appropriate sexual knowledge, attitudes, skills, intentions, and behaviors that contribute to safe, healthy, positive, and gender-equitable relationships. There is ample evidence of program effectiveness, provided basic principles are adhered to in terms of content (e.g., adoption of a broad curriculum, including gender and rights as core elements) and delivery (e.g., learner centeredness). Additional and crucial levers of success are appropriate teacher training, the availability of sexual health services and supplies, and an altogether enabling (school, cultural, and political) context. CSE’s potential extends far beyond individual sexual health outcomes toward, for instance, school social climates and countries’ socioeconomic development. CSE is gaining worldwide political commitment, but a huge gap remains between political frameworks and actual implementation. For CSE to reach scale and its full potential, multicomponent approaches are called for that also address social, ideological, and infrastructural barriers on international, national, and local levels. CSE is a work never done. Current unfinished business comprises, among others, fighting persevering opposition, advancing equitable international cooperation, and realizing ongoing innovation in specific content, delivery, and research-methodological areas.