Cross-posted with permission from The Watchdog.
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I am a 29-year-old woman from Mexico, and I’m here at the Commission on Population and Development working to promote young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. I come from a family which I love, and from which I have received a lot of support for all my endeavors. I am a strong believer that family, in all its forms, is an important unit of society, and that it can play a strong role in educating young people and adolescents. I am also a strong believer that individuals’ human rights should be respected.
I do believe however that youth and adolescents’ access to comprehensive sexuality education should not be limited by or to their parents. Why? Many young people do not have a supportive family, their family may not know how to or want to answer young people’s questions, or worse, they may have the wrong information that will put young people at risk.
Some young people may be mistreated by their parents for bringing up controversial topics, regarding sexuality and health; how does THAT help? Additionally, adolescents will not ask questions if they are not in a safe environment, and some families don’t always make this easy. These are questions they need and have the right to have answers on, and their health and wellbeing is at stake.
I agree that the family teaches important skills like communication, how to relate to others, and social responsibility, but not all families do this. And not enabling universal access to comprehensive sexuality education, information and services excludes youth and adolescents who are already at risk. Just like health care, just like vaccines, just like schooling: our parents’ cannot provide full coverage and protection, so we seek access and support elsewhere too. Why is sexuality education so different?
Why do we want to limit young people to get answers to their sexual and reproductive health and rights questions only from their parents? What about the right to confidentiality, privacy and freedom from stigma and discrimination? How was I, at age 17, supposed to answer truthfully the questions the doctor asked me about health concerns “down there” if my mom was sitting next to me? We should push for schools and health providers to offer comprehensive sexuality education, and for the larger society to support this. Young people need information, services, and support from every part of the community.
This stance does not make me anti-family, though. In fact, I am pro-family, in all its forms. I love my parents and my family, and I have received so much from them, yet they were not always in the best position to answer questions when it came to sexual and reproductive health and rights. And for children, adolescents and young people’s sake, we need to accept that limiting their information access to the family is not very wise. We leave young people at great risk.
Consider the role of the family, yes. Educate the family? Please! But in a UN document – the resolution that we at the CPD are working to negotiate and finalize by the end of this week – to give the family the full responsibility for comprehensive sexuality education?
Please always give adolescents and young people the right of confidentiality to address their own problems, through easily available services throughout the community. And then be assured that those young people and adolescents that are lucky enough to have informed, open parents, will not leave them out of the equation
Thank you for reading so far, I hope you will support young people worldwide.