Young people struggle to access their sexual and reproductive rights. Covid-19 makes it harder

Young people struggle to access their sexual and reproductive rights. Covid-19 makes it harderAdolescents have questions about sexual and reproductive rights. (Stock Image/Pixabay via Pexels)

Sexual and reproductive health rights for adolescents are not adequate at healthcare facilities, and access to youth-friendly services is hindered by resources, and culture. Now, Covid-19 is making this even harder.

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While policies protects young peoples’ sexual and reproductive health rights, most adolescents don’t know their rights or struggle to access services. Now, Covid-19 has made accessing these free services even more difficult.

The focus needs to shift from policies on paper to implementation, says Melanie Pleaner, a researcher from the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute.

Drawing on young people’s experiences

“What is really important to be effective is to move from policy and guidelines into seeing what is available at facilities and what young people’s experiences have been,” says Pleaner. It’s important to understand what barriers young people face, from policy to community.

Adolescents should not be grouped into one, says Pleaner. Services should be tailored according to their age.

“The needs of a 12 and a 13-year-old are very different from a 15 to a 16-year-old, which is very different to an 18-year-old, so adolescence is not a homogenous group,” she adds.

Covid-19 created barriers

The Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying lockdown regulations have further created a barrier  sexual and reproductive rights for adolescents, warns Pleaner. Infection control Infection control messages such as the colour zones at clinics make clinics less youth friendly.

Physical distancing has made it difficult for group discussions with young people. Wearing masks also hinders privacy, with adolescents shouting to be heard.

Addressing the age gap

Young people are also defaulting on collecting ARVs and PreP because facilities feel unwelcome, says Nkosikhona Mpungose, a community development activist and founder of Youth Inter-Active.

“You’ll find a young person who didn’t use a condom for whatever reason, and when they go to the clinic for PEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and they find an older person at the other side of the table. They change the conversation because they can’t speak about their sexuality because of the age difference and maybe because they respect that person,” says Mpungose, adding that sometimes workers will refer to religion, making the environment uncomfortable.

And while this may be the reality of many young people seeking sexual and reproductive health services at clinics, activist Nomtika Mjwana says that although the age gap is an issue for young people, capacity building of existing staff members could boost their relatability.

An additional barrier comes from the classroom, she add. Life Orientation teachers sometimes  direct learners towards pro-life or anti-choice politics where sex-positive education and access to abortion services are frowned on. – Health-e News