Barely a quarter of adolescents are aware of their sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), according to a baseline survey conducted in selected districts by a non-governmental organisation.
This is mainly due to limited knowledge about the subject among parents and a communication gap between them and their children, revealed the survey’s findings conducted as part of Hayat Life Line, an awareness campaign run by the Women’s Empowerment Group, in eight targeted districts and the Islamabad Capital Territory.
A total of 1,890 households were surveyed in which 3,780 respondents including guardians and youth were interviewed. The study reveals that out of 5,670 respondents, only 25.3% were aware of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Some 42% adolescents were able to identify physical changes related to puberty, while 8% were able to link emotional changes with puberty.
An analysis of the survey showed that the awareness rate among girls about sexual and reproductive health and rights was 23.4%, slightly lower as compared to boys, 27.1% of whom had some knowledge on the subject.
Meanwhile, the highest level of awareness about sexual and reproductive health and rights — 40.5% — was found in Peshawar, and the lowest in Lodhran, district of Punjab, at only 9.5%, the study says. The highest level of awareness among males was in Peshawar which was 46.1% and among females was in Quetta which was 36.2%.
The survey was carried out to assess the level of understanding of key stakeholders about adolescent SRHR issues and is focused on all major aspects of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Education project (SRHR-E).
The study revealed that 42% of adolescents were able to identify some forms of gender-based violence in society. A staggering 73% identified forced marriages as the most common form.
The report suggested educating adolescents about their legal rights and social protection available to them, especially focusing on the emotional aspects of puberty.
Awareness-raising efforts should focus on parents as they are the most important source of information and peer education programmes should be initiated in schools. The media can also play an important role in providing information.
Barriers hindering communication between parents and their children regarding different forms of gender-based violence especially sexual abuse may be removed through counselling for parents.
Correcting misconceptions about HIV/AIDS should be one of the objectives of the education intervention. Furthermore, it suggests providing education on sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS with separate sessions for girls and boys, with more focus on the early adolescent age group. The study recommends that adolescents should be educated about complications and other consequences of pregnancy during adolescence.
It also recommended that advocacy efforts should be initiated to influence government policy to include the relevant sexual and reproductive health and rights components in school and college curricula. Teachers need to be trained to ensure the message is conveyed to adolescents in an effective and culturally sensitive manner.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2013.