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The country's adolescents and youths are being urged to take serious responsibility for their sexual and reproductive health to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STI).

The appeal came from Acting Director, Social Policy, Planning and Research Division, Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Easton Williams, at a World Population Day symposium held on July 11 at Emancipation Park in New Kingston.

Mr. Williams warned that untimed pregnancies are often a “poverty trap” for many poor adolescents and youths, especially girls, which can often ruin their social, academic and economic growth and development.

He encouraged young people to wait before having sex and instead, make their academic pursuits their first priority.  “Put your priorities straight and empower yourself for the future. Education is the key…sex will come and you will be glad that you waited. You won’t die if you don’t have sex,” he remarked.

He also emphasised the importance of young people having correct knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, including the proper use of contraceptives and advised youths to, “get guidance from someone who is responsible, not from your peers because, most of the times, they don’t know”.

Statistics from the UNFPA reveal that 16 million adolescent girls become mothers every year because they lack access to sexual and reproductive health services. An estimated three million unsafe abortions took place in 2008, and almost 40 per cent of the 6,800 new HIV infections each day are among young people.

Mr. Williams said sexual behaviour among Jamaican youth is quite high, with the average age for first sexual experience being about 14 years for boys and 15.5 years for girls.

The use of contraceptives at first sexual intercourse for adolescents is very low, he said, posing the risk of high levels of pregnancy and STIs. Mr. Williams said the rate of STI transmission among adolescent girls is about three or four times higher than adolescent boys.

The World Population Day symposium was organised by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in collaboration with the PIOJ under theme: ‘Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health – it’s your right – claim it with responsibility’.

Mr. Williams said the theme is timely, as the youth population, globally and in Jamaica, is currently at its peak in terms of size. “This is the highest number of adolescent and young people ever in Jamaica. It will never reach higher than this,” he remarked, noting that the numbers will start to decline in the next five years.

Discussions at the symposium examined three main areas: the history and development of reproductive health services in Jamaica; the legal/policy environment and adolescent sexual and reproductive health services in Jamaica; and adolescent sex, sexuality and reproductive health in Jamaica.

There were also presentations from Director, UNFPA Sub-regional Office for the Caribbean, Geeta Sethi, and Chief Medical Officer, Ministry of Health, Dr. Eva Lewis Fuller.

Observance of World Population Day began in 1987 when the world’s population reached the five billion mark. The global population grew to six billion in 1999 and then to seven billion in 2011. It is estimated that the global population will reach nine billion in 2050. It is further expected that the growth of the global population will gradually slow down and even decline within the next 200 years.