SEATTLE — The Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) has published research on adolescent health in the developing world in the Global Public Health Journal related to positive interventions for very young adolescents (VYAs) to improve their future relationships and sexual health.
Previous research and programs have focused on sexual health education for older adolescents; however, IRH has focused on the unique time of transition into adulthood. Very young adolescents fall within the age range of 10 to 14.
Adolescent health in the developing world often includes issues such as unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and matters of reproductive health. In addition, communities often lack the resources to address these concerns.
This study determines that sexual health education for VYAs can help reduce future sexual health concerns by offering boys and girls confidence and knowledge to understand their bodies. This type of program is viewed as an investment in the lives of children who will soon be productive members of their communities.
Adolescents of this age are beginning the transition through puberty. While they are not typically sexually active, it is an important period in life when boys and girls develop gendered attitudes and behaviors. If children can be reached at this stage, it is possible to enhance gender equitable practices.
IRH suggests guidelines and programs for health education at this stage. Programs should work with children to develop a positive sense of self. In addition, programs can promote equal value of males and females to enhance respect and avoid future gender-based violence. Furthermore, programs addressing this age group will incorporate families, schools and communities so that children feel supported during adolescence.
In Uganda, youth camps and mobile health services have provided services such as nutrition monitoring, mental health checks and fertility health checks for young boys and girls. These are preventive services that will establish healthy, safe futures as they progress through puberty.
The article from the Global Public Health Journal quotes the following from one VYA boy in Nepal:
“Life for boys and girls in not equal in our community. Boys have freedom but our parents do not allow our sisters to go outside of home. Boys can play games while girls have to look after household chores.”
For the sake of adolescent health in the developing world, there is a clear need to develop gender equitable norms in developing countries. While this change will take time and continuous community involvement, programs that target VYAs can help facilitate this change during a critical period of life.
Sources: Institute for Reproductive Health, Global Public Health Journal