Global conference focuses on early marriage, early childbearing and repeated pregnancies

Global conference focuses on early marriage, early childbearing and repeated pregnancies

Aarti Dhar
tell us what all was discussed at a global confernce on family planning held recently at Bali…


rshpreet Kaur is bright student pursuing her Masters in Technology from Chandigarh. Anyone else in her position would be looking forward to a promising career, but she is not. Her happiness lies somewhere else.

“I was never satisfied with what I was doing, my heart was always in advocacy and that is what I have been doing since 2014,” says young Arshpreet.  Her aim and ambitious in life is to spread information about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) among the adolescents and youth in India.

Having participated in debates on social issues right from her school days, Arshpreet finally made three resolutions on December 31, 2013 one of which was advocacy on SRHR issues. She joined the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI) as advocacy volunteer.

Arshpreet still recalls the day when one of her friends told her that using Western style commode caused HIV infection and another one believed emergency contraceptive caused abortion! She champions the cause of the youth and believes adolescent education must be made mandatory in schools.

These episodes made her realize that there was a dearth of information among adolescents and she decided to try and bridge this gap through advocacy. And it was her passion that brought her to Bali for the Fourth International Conference on Family Planning. “When I go to schools to talk about sexual and reproductive health, I am careful not to use words like ‘sex, sexism and sexuality’ because students presume I would teach them ‘sex’ which is taboo in India.

family planning
The focus of the four-day Conference “Global Commitments, Local Actions” is on adolescent, and rightly so because not all adolescents are planning families.

A significant number of the world’s 1.8 billion adolescents and youth are sexually active and want to prevent or delay a pregnancy for multiple years – until finishing school, gaining employment, getting married, or to space their children. In spite of numerous statements and conventions supporting the rights of adolescents and youth to access contraception, their ability to exercise full contraceptive choice and access a wide range of methods including long lasting and reversible contraceptives remains limited. Common barriers include lack of knowledge about contraceptive choices, myths and misconceptions, provider bias, lack of family, partner and community support, social negative norms and the absence of long acting reversible contraceptives (LRCs) services, as well as restrictive laws and policies.

At the same time, one third of the girls in developing countries are married or in union before the age of 18 years and approximately 12 per cent are married or in union before the age of 15, with the expectation that most will become pregnant soon after marriage. Approximately, 16 million adolescents aged 15-19, give birth annually, for these some births are planned but for many others, they are not. An estimated 33 million young women, aged 15-24 in 61 low and middle income countries have an unmet need for contraception. In addition to well documented risks of early childbearing for both adolescents and children, repeated pregnancy (within 2 years of previous pregnancy) is increasing recognized and associated with increased maternal and newborn morbidity, as well as abortions, including unsafe abortions.

“Young people must be given the right to make decisions for themselves based on their individual needs and the varying contexts within which they live,’’ says Ramya Jawahar from Bangalore, and currently vice chair of the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP). “If we want to advance human rights and health, we need to start investing in and empowering youth today,” she says.

One-fourth of India’s 1.2 billion population are below the age of 25 years. Early marriage, early childbearing and repeated pregnancies are issues the country is dealing with. There are only four contraceptives available in the public sector but accessibility is an issue even for married couples.

Leading global health organizations discussed their commitment to a new Global Consensus Statement supporting the expansion of contraceptive choice for young people to include LARCs at Bali with more than 40 global health and development organizations endorsing it. Experts at the Conference said global efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies and improve pregnancy spacing among adolescents and youth will reduce maternal and infant morbidity and mortality, decrease rates of unsafe abortions, decrease HIV/STI incidence, improve nutritional status, keep girls in school, improve economic opportunities, and contribute towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The largest generation of young people the world has ever seen is entering reproductive age, and yet these young people too often face enormous barriers in accessing a full range of contraceptives, including LARCs,” says Beth Schlacter, Executive Director, FP2020.

“Adolescents and youth are often not planning families and hence have long been neglected in Family Planning initiatives,” says Prof C.N.Purandare, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) while encouraging obstetricians, gynecologists and midwives to promote strategies and remove barriers in their countries to use LARCs to meet young people’s reproductive health needs.

The Consensus Statement calls for provision of evidence-based information to policy-makers, ministry representatives, program managers, service providers, communities and family members, and young people on the safety, effectiveness, reversibility, cost-effectiveness, acceptability and the health and non-health benefits of contraception.

Aarti Dhar is a Delhi-based senior journalist who has covered a variety of social, developmental and political issues, which include over two-decade-long association with The Hindu as Deputy Editor

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