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As a public health major, I’ve learned that linking health and human rights in a single, cohesive approach can further promote and advance people’s overall well-being. Sadly, many health policies and programs both at home and abroad, lack such approach and instead continue to negatively impact our basic inherent rights, stifle our holistic growth as individuals, and permeate social stigmas and isolation.

Today,  pressing issues of sexual and reproductive justice continue to affect young people across the world. Health policies around the accessibility and availability of comprehensive sex education, contraceptives, and preventative screenings continue to limit young people’s right to accurate and complete sexual health information, confidential reproductive and sexual health services and most importantly, a secure stake in the future.

In the US alone, only 21 states mandate comprehensive sex education that consists of both sexuality and HIV education in school.[1] That means less than half of the country recognizes the importance of providing our youth the sexual health resources they need to grow and empower themselves. Most states also lack policies that could require health care services in schools to offer HIV, STD, and pregnancy testing and counseling. It is not surprising then, that young people in America actually experience the highest rate of HIV infections because of the sexual health accessibility and availability issues.

In developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa, maternal death rates are shockingly high because young and poor women lack access to contraception and pregnancy-related services such as safe abortion, family planning, and pregnancy counseling. These girls are actually 175 times more likely to die in childbirth than women elsewhere because of the sexual and reproductive injustice prevalent in their countries.[2] Clearly, the lack of comprehensive sex education and the lack of sexual, reproductive health services both in schools and in the government negatively impacts the health of our peers everywhere. With no resources to protect and empower themselves, our peers are left vulnerable to the external and or cultural forces they have no control over like early child marriage or rape.

On December 10th, we will be recognizing International Human Rights Day’s 20 years of promotion of the universal respect for and observance of all human rights. It is a day we recognize the minimum set of needs and obligations that every person should have or have the right to. The United Nations General Assembly noted that this day was created to highlight the human rights’ importance as the common standard of achievement of all people.[3]

On this day, let’s take that challenge further by reaffirming our commitment to young people and their right to sexual and reproductive health. We all have the right & the responsibility to protect our own emotional and physical health as well as that of our partners. To do this, young people deserve the right to access the resources we need to improve our sexual and reproductive health!

[1] Sorace, Danene. “Addressing Sexual Health In Schools” Advocates for Youth, 2013.

[2] Maternal Deaths in Developing Countries: World Health Organization

[3] Human Rights Day: United Nations 2013. http://www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/