Protecting young people’s sexual health and well-being

Young Pacific people, including those on Tokelau, have high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned teenage pregnancies. Youth and population level surveys conducted by Pacific Ministries of Health and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) show that on average 1 in 4 young people in the Pacific have the STI, Chlamydia, and teenage pregnancy rates are among the highest in the world. SPC Youth Advisor, Mereia Carling, said that investing in young people’s health, including their sexual and reproductive health, is an essential component of enhancing the sustainable development of small islands and future generations of Pacific Islanders. Poor sexual health and having children too soon can negatively impact young people’s opportunities, personal and professional growth.

In Tokelau, where 73 per cent of unmarried youth between 15 and 24 years are sexually active, 25 per cent report experiencing symptoms associated with STIs in the previous 12 months. The teenage birth rate is also high with 39 per 1000 young women in Tokelau having had at least one child before the age of 19 years. Although small and geographically remote, and with firm religious, cultural, village and family ties, Tokelau is not immune to the dynamics that place young people at risk of poor sexual and reproductive health.

These include early sexual debut, having multiple sexual partners, engaging in unprotected sex when off-island, binge drinking and alcohol abuse, and unreliable access to condoms and other contraceptives. Although young people in Tokelau have high levels of knowledge and awareness about the ABCs (Abstain, Be Faithful, Condomise) of sexual health protection, this knowledge is not being translated into behaviour change.

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