Indonesian youth advocate for family planning but are denied rights

by Chibuike Alagboso | @theaidsalliance | International HIV/AIDS Alliance - UK
Wednesday, 27 January 2016 16:10 GMT

Teenage boys involved in the GENRE programme | © Chibuike Alagboso

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Indonesian government takes family planning seriously, yet while they are actively involving young people as leaders to help improve health outcomes they also deny them fundamental rights.

During the International Conference on Family Planning in Bali (25-28 January), the Honourable Professor Bambang Permadi Soemantri Brodjonegoro, Indonesia's minister of finance, said: “Family planning has really helped our economic improvement… [In the past 10 years] Indonesia has transformed from a low-income country to a middle-income country, and the success of family planning coordinated by BKKBN has been the key.”

BKKBN is Indonesia’s national population and family planning agency which ensures family planning is effective and accessible across the country. The head of the agency, Dr Surya Chandra Surapaty, said: “With the fourth largest population in the world, Indonesia has considered population planning, and in particular family planning, as a key issue in its national development plan since 1967.”

Young teens taking lead roles in family planning agenda

BKKBN is achieving their objectives by supporting and funding initiatives that allow young people to take lead roles in promoting family planning. It selects male and female student ambassadors from the 34 provinces of Indonesia to help coordinate family planning activities in junior, senior, and tertiary institutions.

PIK-R Smara (Teenagers’ Information and Counseling Centre) was founded at the SMP Dwijendra Denpasar high school. It is an after school club run by teenagers for teenagers using interactive programmes to advance the GENRE programme of the BKKBN.

GENRE promotes the message: zero child marriages, drugs and sex before marriage. Club activities include life skills, community development, nature and cultural preservation, and physical education. It also integrates sexual and reproductive health messages and advocacy into its activities. And they have a radio station to disseminate this information to the public.

PIK-R Smara club is successfully led by young people and their fellow teens can trust and relate to them better.
According to Nanda Rizka Saputri, a 2015 Indonesian student ambassador representing Jakarta province, the personal development trainings are important in helping young people develop strategic life skills and emotional intelligence before taking up responsibilities as parents.

Sexual and reproductive health

By engaging young people as leaders in family planning, the BKKBN has potential to see significant progress in addressing issues around young people's sexual and reproductive health, which could contribute to achieving the global goal of ensuring healthy lives for all at all ages.

Yet little progress is likely to happen while this approach is accompanied with a hard stance on the issue of young people and sex before marriage. The only promoted message is 'no sex before marriage'. According to student Batari (name changed to protect identity), the government makes sure that young people can't access any form of contraceptive, especially condoms, because they say sex is only for married people. Batari said security officials even visit organisations that work with young people to identify the type of information they are being given.

But blocking access to information and contraceptives only increases young people's exposure to health risks, resulting in increased unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion, as well as the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. It also raises serious questions about the violations of young people's sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Addressing young people's sexual health rights

Young people are dying because they don't have access to condoms. Not only do young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy, but AIDS is currently the number two leading cause of adolescent deaths around the world (UNAIDS).

In Indonesia, young people (aged 10-24) comprise 26 percent (64.3 million) of the total population, and Indonesia along with India and China, account for 78 percent of new HIV infections in the Asia and Pacific region.

According to Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver, it is important that the government takes another look at their stance on sexual rights of young people because their choices and needs matter. “It is the opportunities, the needs and the choices of young people today, who account for half the world’s population, that will define the world not only as we know it, but as we want it,” she said.

It is also important that they listen and co-develop policies for youth with youth as emphasised by Dr Benoit Kalasa, director of UNFPA's technical division.

He said: “Our youth leaders have told us loud and clear: know our interests and work with us, co-design and co-create with us to drive successful programmes; invest in our empowerment education, health and employment; recognise that we are our nations’ precious human resources, and investments in us will produce wealth and well-being for all nations; leverage our collective power for the collective transformation we can bring to the 2030 agenda.”

Chibuike Alagboso lives in Nigeria and is a member of Key Correspondents, a citizen journalism network reporting for action on HIV. The network is supported by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.