Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) has not gained traction in the country. As a result, the youngsters indulge in “behaviors and practices that could be detrimental to their health”, according to experts on youth issues in Pakistan.
Rutgers World Population Foundation (RWPF) Country Director Qadeer Baig told The Express Tribune than more than 64% of Pakistan’s population consists of young people and majority of them are from low-income backgrounds who remain unaware of their SRH.
Baig added that in Pakistan, “puberty is panic”.
“The child who is passing through this stage is unaware of all sort of physical and psychological changes which are taking place in his or her body which makes them curious,” he said. “To put an end to the curiosity they try various mediums.”
Baig was of the view that due to social taboos, children are unable to discuss these changes with their parents and vice versa; thus some of them indulge in risky practices while others join bad companies.
Sharing the findings of a research study conducted by RWFP on the status of SRH and Rights of Young People in Pakistan in 2009, he said there is little available information on the sexual and reproductive practices and behaviors of 12-18 year olds.
The assumption that boys and girls under 18 are “too young” to need SRH information and services ignores the realities and environmental factors and denies young people from acquiring practical knowledge and skills they need to protect themselves. Hence, teenagers remain vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, pregnancies, unsafe abortions or childbirth and sexual abuse or violence.
“However, lack of empirical evidence has always been a major hurdle in influencing comprehensive change at the policy level. It is important to design interventions to meet the unique needs of this group,” he said.
Parvez Tufail, Youth and Adolescent SRH expert, quoted a research he had carried out in 2009, “Authentic and exact knowledge about sex, reproductive health, and HIV/ AIDS is almost non-existing for adolescents aged 10-19.”
“Shyness and cultural constraints are resulting in insufficient education for the adolescents in order to muddle through these problems.”
Tufail said upon entering puberty, girls face more difficulty in accessing health care than adolescent boys due to social norms, mobility issues, enforced segregation between the sexes, customary practices and taboos restricting open discussion of sexuality.
Zahra Kamal, a clinical psychologist, said that in our society the main problem is lack of communication between parents and children. “Fathers are reluctant to talk to their sons. Some boys go to quacks to get treatment where they are exploited both in monetary terms and sexually,” she added.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2011.