Youth Say Coca-Cola Is Easier to Find Than Condoms

Published: May 29, 2013

KUALA LUMPUR, May 29 2013 (IPS) – “If I am thirsty and want a bottle of Coca-Cola I can get it, no matter where in the world I am. Why can’t I get contraceptives or sexual heathcare?” asked Carlos Jimmy Macazana Quispe, a youth representative from Peru currently in Kuala Lumpur for the third edition of the Women Deliver global conference on the “health and well-being of women and girls.”

A member of the Lima-based Instituto Peruano de Paternidad Responsable (INPPARES), a non-profit organisation that helps young Peruvians learn about sexual and reproductive rights, Quispe was expressing frustration that 36 percent of sexually active Peruvians – the majority of them youth – do not have access to contraceptives.

There are over a hundred youth like Quispe participating in the three-day conference that started on May 28, most of them from developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America where “contraceptives” are equated with condoms, teen pregnancy is on the rise and child marriage is often considered a social norm.

One of these ambassadors is Shreejana Bajracharya, a youth consultant from the Nepal-based Ipas, an NGO working to prevent deaths and disease from unsafe abortions in a country where 21 percent of all mothers are aged below 18 years.

Bajrachayra, who counsels young married and unmarried women factory workers about safe sex, says that over 80 percent of sexually active young women practice unsafe sex and risk pregnancy because they fear that contraceptives could cause them physical harm.

“I meet youth who tell me that…(birth control) pills could damage their kidneys or their heart,” she told IPS, adding incredulously: “And these are women who live in the capital (Kathmandu). If awareness levels in the capital are so low, imagine what youth in rural areas are experiencing.”

According to Pablo Aguilera, head of the New York-based HIV Young Leaders Fund, the situation is particularly bad for minority communities like those who identify as transgender, or people living with HIV/AIDS.

Aguilera, himself a young person living with HIV, identified two simultaneous problems: not only are at-risk populations unaware of the most basic information regarding safe sex and reproductive health, but they are also unaccounted for, passing under the radar of surveys or other attempts to identify target populations.

“We need to engage more youth from marginalised and stigmatised communities, such as transgender (people),” he told IPS, adding that vulnerable youth must be included in studies and surveys “not as interviewees but as interviewer. This will not only help them receive information firsthand, but will also sensitise them on the issue instantly.”

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