With nearly half the world's population under the age of 25, today’s generation of youth is the largest ever. Yet many young people lack access to the services and information they need to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. Each year, there are an estimated 1.2 million unintended pregnancies among adolescent women in Latin America and the Caribbean, proportionally surpassing figures from Sub-Saharan Africa. While 35% women in the region give birth before the age of 20, in rural areas the rate is even higher.
Young people's needs go beyond contraception; they include comprehensive sexuality education, youth-friendly clinics, and services for survivors of sexual violence. Sometimes in order to best meet the needs of youth, they need to be given a place of their own.In Lima, Peru, the Instituto Peruano de Paternidad Responsable (INPPARES) operates a youth center called "Centro Juvenil Futuro." Although Centro is managed separately from INPPARES' clinical services, the youth center functions as an integral part of the social programs that increase young people's leadership and strengthen youth services. At Centro, a group of youth volunteers meet regularly to organize outreach and advocacy projects and coordinate peer education activities. They see Centro as a valuable and safe space where they receive training and resources, gain support from trusted adults, and meet with other volunteers. INPPARES views the center as a vibrant hub for its youth outreach programs.
Although modern technology plays an increasing role in the lives of young people, it has not supplanted the need for Centro. Instead, the youth volunteers use a mix of social networking sites, the Internet, and mobile phone technology to share resources, hold meetings, and coordinate outreach projects. This diversity provides a variety ways for young people to access critical health information and get involved in INPPARES' youth volunteer work. It also helps them avoid the common obstacles of limited access to public transportation and parental restrictions.
There is much to be done to ensure young people receive the sexual and reproductive health services they need to navigate into adulthood safely. Young people need support in developing the confidence and maturity to make informed decisions about their sexuality. They also need comprehensive and confidential services, reliable information about sex, and governments whose laws reflect their needs. Progress is possible when youth are empowered to make informed decisions about their sexual activity, and when their sexual and reproductive rights are put at the center of institutional policies and programs.