Foreign Policy Blogs

UN Adopts Resolution on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health

Congratulations on Avoiding Teen PregnancyLast week, I wrote about new findings on the precarious well-being of adolescents worldwide.  The studies in The Lancet and UNICEF’s “report card” were released in advance of last week’s United Nations Committee on Population and Development (CPD) session, which focused on adolescents this year.  On Friday, the CPD adopted a resolution affirming the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people. Although the resolution is not yet publicly available, the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF) has the story.

According to IPPF, the resolution was adopted “late” on Friday, April 27, at the session in New York City. The CPD resolution affirms the right of young people to make their own decisions related to their reproductive health and sexuality free from violence and discrimination. It also calls for increased access to reproductive health services and comprehensive sex ed. RH Reality Check has a bit more on the implications of the resolution and the dissension in the room between pro-choice and anti-choice parties. Unsurprisingly, the wording on access to abortion is reportedly not very strong. Although this is only a statement in the right direction, the CPD’s action will spur further global discussion on one of the largest barriers to health facing adolescents today: comprehensive reproductive health education and services.

Reproductive health and sexuality are, of course, huge lightning rods in global discussions. Cultural differences abound, but cultural relativism is no excuse for the lack of access to services and education that will allow adolescents around the world to make decisions about their own bodies. Obviously, varying approaches will be required in different countries. Education on reproductive health and family planning is key to better maternal health outcomes for girls and women (and better infant health outcomes, of course) and could begin to change cultural norms about reproductive choice: If men (and women) around the world had a better understanding of the importance of adequate spacing between children or waiting to marry off their daughters until they are developed enough to handle pregnancy and birth, for example, we would see a dramatic decrease in maternal mortality. According to UNICEF, around 95 percent of adolescent births occur in low- and middle-income countries. The United States is the only industrialized country in the top ten highest numbers of adolescent births.  Whereas in the United States there is not generally a social push for teen pregnancies, in many low- and middle-income countries, this is not the case. Both of these figures illustrate the dire need for improved, widespread, and comprehensive education on reproductive health. The UN resolution is  small step in the right direction, but it will require buy-in from a number of countries, politicians, and religious figures who seem unwilling to put the health and happiness of young citizens first.


Header photo by vxla, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.









Julia Robinson

Julia Robinson has worked in South Africa at an NGO that helps to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and in Sierra Leone for an organization that provides surgeries, medical care, and support to women suffering from obstetric fistula. She is interested in human rights, global health, social justice, and innovative, unconventional solutions to global issues. Julia lives in San Francisco, where she works for a sustainability and corporate social responsibility non-profit. She has a BA in African History from Columbia University.