Why More Needs to be Done for Teen Sexual Health in Crises
While relief agencies focus on providing food, water and shelter for refugees in emergencies, too little attention is paid to the sexual health and wellbeing of young people, and vulnerable girls in particular. This is according to a new report by the Women’s Refugee Commission and Save the Children, which argues that humanitarian organisations need to prioritise the sexual and reproductive wellness needs of displaced adolescents at the earliest opportunity in a crisis, or else these young people face sexual violence, sexually transmitted diseases and early pregnancy.
Speaking on a panel at the United Nations, where the report was presented, Sarah Costa, executive director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, commented, ‘The report calls for humanitarian organisations to integrate adolescent reproductive health services at the very beginning of any emergency response.’ The report, which came out of a year-long study done in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), calls for donors and humanitarian and development organisations to scale up services in emergencies and invest in this area.
Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA executive director, noted, ‘Young people are not only an important subgroup, but in many conflict and post-conflict zones, they are the majority of the population,’ adding that two-thirds of the population in conflict zones like Liberia, Sudan and Afghanistan are under 25. According to Osotimehin, ‘we give low priority to these people’ and their SRH services needs ‘continue to be overlooked in humanitarian interventions.’ Osotimehin argued that this is partly due to the fact that ‘we don’t have a systematic data collection system that tells us who is where and what we should look out for.’
Upon studying adolescent SRH programmes in humanitarian settings, the report found that only 37 programmes focused on the SRH needs of adolescents aged 10 to 19 in humanitarian settings, while just 21 programmes offered at least two methods of contraception. When it came to funding for teenage SRH programmes, proposals for these accounted for less that 3.5% of all health proposals per year, and the majority of this meager amount went unfunded.
The report recommended, ‘There is an urgent need to scale up services for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive health (ASRH) in humanitarian settings from acute emergency through protracted crises and development. Investing in ASRH may help delay first pregnancy, reduce maternal death, improve health outcomes, contribute to broad development and reduce poverty.’