UNLOCKED Blog 8: Lacuna and Disruptive Access to Sex and Reproductive Health Awareness Reduces Quality of Life amongst Adolescents.

09 Apr 2015

Sri Lanka, known for its sexually conservative culture is not immune to social issues such as the rampant rise of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among the youth. Culturally imposed stigma regarding sex and reproduction matters are often considered the reasons for stoking the embers of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) and lack of proper usage of contraceptive methods.

As stated in Sri Lanka’s National Human Development Report 2014 on ‘Youth and Development: Towards a More Inclusive Future’, studies done through the National Youth Survey 2013 revealed that ‘shame’ (35.4% percent of the sample) was a key factor in adolescents not willing to access sex and reproductive health care. Despite the negatively imposed connotations surrounding sexual intercourse, abstinence is not practiced stringently. In fact, the Demographic and Health Survey of 2006-2007 found that 11.7% of female teenagers had their sexual debuts at an average age of 18 years, while the United Nations Children’s Fund survey established that only 24% of teens used condoms during sex.

Due to the highly conservative culture, the stakeholders of this matter other than the teenagers, that is, the parents and educators for instance, encourage the fact that adolescents be kept in the dark regarding these matters, as knowledge on sex and reproductive health can cause them to engage in sexual intercourse more often. They cling on to the false hope that abstinence is the best method of prevention. This absence of knowledge, or ignorance, exposes the teens to unnecessary health risks and pregnancies.

With abortion being criminalised under the Penal Code of Sri Lanka (except under special circumstances), teenagers have often opted for unsafe and illegal abortions due to the lack of other options and the fear of societal taboo on single parenthood. The increase in abortions can be directly linked to the lack or reduced awareness on contraceptive methods, which can prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. As much as the writer believes in the sanctity of life, she believes more on the sanctity of a “quality” life. By not allowing regulated and safe abortions teenage pregnant mothers to be a burden in today’s contemporary society (if they chose to not resort to illegal termination).

STDs, on the other hand have increased drastically among the youth. Studies carried out by the National STD/AIDS Control Programme depicted a sharp increase of reported HIV cases between the age groups 10-19 and 20-29 which then drops at the age group 30-39. This report is staggeringly reflective of who is actually in dire need of proper sex education.

Regardless of the Sri Lankan cultural stance surrounding the “taboo” subject of intercourse, the truth of the matter still remains glaringly open right in front of our faces still unresolved. Adolescents should have access to sex and reproductive health care, and not providing such will only reduce their quality of life drastically and will make them all the more vulnerable and exposed to risks that can, in reality, easily be prevented through awareness.

The rate of unplanned pregnancies ought to be curbed if we are to see a true social development in the country. A society where sexual and emotional health takes precedence over irrationality stemming from cultural norms is necessary. As long as the reproductive health of teenagers continue to be jeopardized for the sake of cultural ignorance, then the development of youth will continue to be hindered. It is up to the policy-makers to take steps in order to ensure that proper sex education becomes a mandatory part of the school curriculum, in order to realise our youth’s full potential and enable active contributions to the development of our country

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