For International Youth Day on August 12, Lelei LeLaulu, president of global development agency Counterpart International calls for arming the Caribbean`s youth, especially girls and young women, with knowledge about sound reproductive health issues. Such knowledge, he added, was key for launching healthy careers and leading full and productive lives.
LeLaulu said too many young people from the Caribbean are being negatively affected by teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS. The NGO leader said he was startled by a recent report in the Sunday Sun newspaper in Barbados on the high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections among Bajan teenage girls, between 15 and 19 years old.
“Rather than ignoring the problem leaders should educate our youth on how HIV/AIDS is a deadly challenge in the fight against poverty,” he declared. “Too many of our finest are being lost at an early age, but all they needed was a little knowledge which would have taken them far beyond the shores of deadly ignorance,” said LeLaulu, whose organisation is working with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the region`s media to bring attention to adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights issues in the Caribbean.
The countries of the Caribbean as the sub-region (including Haiti and Dominican Republic) have the second highest disease prevalence (2.2%) in the world second only to Sub-Saharan Africa (8.4%). HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in the 15-44 year age group.
The theme for this year`s International Youth Day is related to youth employment and highlights UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan`s Youth Employment Network (YEN) and the 2002 General Assembly resolution on promoting youth employment. “Keeping the youth employment corps healthy is important,” said LeLaulu, who emphasised that every Caribbean teen must be armed with knowledge of reproductive health issues in order to maximise their potential and increase work place productivity.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that some 74 million young people are currently out of work. In the next ten years, more than one billion young people will enter the working age population. While this new generation is more educated than any previous one, these young people will continue to face many obstacles in their search for jobs.
“We must develop strategies that give young people everywhere a real chance to find decent and productive work that will allow them to become independent and responsible global citizens. This involves promoting employability, equal opportunities, entrepreneurship and employment creation for youth all over the world,” said UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. “Young people should never be seen as a burden on any society, but as its most precious asset,” said Annan.
Counterpart International has teamed with UNFPA to produce the 2003 Caribbean Media Awards on “Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights” issues in the region. This includes stories or reports on curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS, early initiation of sexual activity, fostering behavioural change, promoting gender equality, sexual exploitation (including sex tourism) and population, poverty reduction and sustainable development.