Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) are an important pillar of the human rights framework and the below average results in this area are a poor reflector on the general human rights situation in Pakistan.
Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world with a prominent youth slot. However, the sexual and reproductive health and right concerns of the population, particularly the youth, remain unaddressed at the policy level as well in terms of implementation. There is general shyness when it comes to talking about such a topic because cultural norms have deemed sexual and reproductive rights as a taboo subject, which consequently restricts people’s choices in this matter. The unequal power relation between men and women is also an important factor which makes it difficult for girls and women to exercise autonomy when it comes to making informed decisions about their own bodies and to negotiate safer sex.
Needless to say, young people have rights to access adequate and age appropriate knowledge regarding their sexual and reproductive healthcare. However, they are the ones who are most vulnerable because they lack information and access to relevant services. Even though, the inclusion of youth is an integral part in National Population Policy and National Reproductive Health Strategy, the intervention programs in line with these policies are still hidden when it comes to issues regarding Sex Ed (sexuality education) for youth and availability for youth-friendly health services.
Youth, today, experience complex challenges, including an earlier emergence of puberty and sexual activity and often have no knowledge about their sexuality and/or about the consequences they might face as a result of their sexual behaviours. They are prone to high risks of pregnancy and abortion and are victims of exploitation, sexual violence, prostitution, discrimination and other crises. In addition, they generally lack appropriate life skills to deal with social and economic pressures and to make informed, responsible choices. As a result of all this, young people are at a high risk to substance abuse (tobacco, alcohol, other drugs) and getting exposed to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV/AIDS.
Pakistan’s large number of young population is still living on the edge of society because of poor socio-economic factors. Homeless young people are often the casualties of an economic crisis, displacement as a result of war/conflict, poverty, loss of traditional values, domestic violence, broken homes, physical and mental abuse. These statistics about the youth population in Pakistan calls for intensive programmatic measures in order to take care of young people’s vulnerabilities. We need to empower them enough to be able to bring a shift in development so they can eventually break the cycle of poverty in Pakistan.
Pakistan is a signatory of conventions including International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) 1994, the Beijing Conference 1995 and the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) outlined at the UN Millennium Summit 2001 that put issues of adolescence sexual and reproductive health at the top, mainly including the promotion of responsible and healthy reproductive and sexual behaviors. Pakistan is also a signatory to the International Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), which critically recognizes the rights of the child, including the following eight fundamental rights:
- Right to life
- Right to Education
- Right to Food
- Right to Health
- Right to Water
- Right to Identity
- Right to Freedom
- Right to Protection
These rights further help form the Top 12 Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, which are as follows:
- The right to be free of torture and ill-treatment
- The right to information and education
- The right to decide
- The right to liberty and security
- The right to the benefits of scientific progress
- The right to life
- The right of freedom of thought
- The right to equality and to be free from all forms of discrimination
- The right to political freedom of assembly and participation
- The right to privacy
- The right to health care and health protection
- The right to choose
Enabling youth to attain necessary life skills regarding SRHR without discrimination is a vital device in reaching many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) particularly those pertaining to poverty reduction, HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality and gender equality.
In Pakistan, very few programmes seem to address the issues of the youth’s sexual health and rights. Most government programmes tend to focus on reproductive health in terms of family planning issues that serve young married people. According to the The National Strategic Framework on HIV/AIDS, youth is a priority area, especially the street youth, because of the increasing rates of HIV infection among the young members of the society during the last few years. The major cause of this increase in infection has been lack of right information on issues regarding this same very topic.
There is a dire need to implement and practice Life-Skills Based Education in Pakistan without discriminating against gender or socio-economic group as the major area in meeting the challenges of the SRHR sector. Life Skills Education does not only help develop skills and knowledge of young people regarding their health but also helps them build their self-esteem and confidence when it comes making decisions about their bodies and rights.
The prevailing government needs to strengthen and endorse proper resources to ensure that all schools nation-wide are introduced to universal Life-Skills/Sexuality education for adolescents so that when they reach puberty, they have sufficient information and knowledge to deal with biological and psychological changes they face at that age. The most important way to bring about a change, however, is to consciously create a shift in thinking which makes the subject of sexual and reproductive health and rights more inviting and open for consideration.