(Check against delivery)
Distinguished chairs, Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
We know that every day an estimated 1,000 young women and girls become infected with HIV; that more than 60 % of all young people living with HIV – or 72% in sub-Saharan Africa – are young women; and that AIDS is the leading cause of death among adolescent girls. These are the facts.
We also know what needs to be done! The sad thing is that we are not doing it – at least not to the extent that we need to.
Different factors contribute to the disheartening statistics:
We know that knowledge of HIV – how it is transmitted and how to protect oneself from infection – is alarmingly low among young people. Nearly two thirds of all people, including adolescents and young people, do not have basic awareness about HIV!
Sexual and gender based violence and harmful practices are other key contributing factors. In some countries, nearly half of girls report that their first sexual encounter was coerced. Not to mention child early and forced marriage. Every day more than 39,000 girls under 18 are married off.
The solution lies in respecting the rights of girls, adolescent girls and young women and in ensuring access: Access to comprehensive sexuality education for children and adolescents in and out of school to enable them make informed choices; access to youth friendly health services where they are met in a non-discriminatory and non-judgmental manner; access to gender equality in terms of legal, economic and social aspects so that young girls are not forced into relationships with older, often married, men in order to sustain a living. And so they can seek justice over any wrongdoing in public or private spheres. And lastly access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. In short, access to being able to decide freely over one’s own body and life.
I cannot help but wonder how the same girl can be considered old enough to marry, but too young to receive sexuality education? Young people have the right to be equipped with the knowledge and means to protect themselves from HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancies. Access to comprehensive sexuality education and youth friendly services is essential in this regard as it will enable them make informed choices and thus shape their futures in terms of education, employment and family. This way we can help young people become agents of change in their societies - as we know they can be and want to be - with the means to change things for the better for themselves and for others. We are doing a disfavor to young people – and indeed to ourselves – if we do not deliver on these aspects.
The majority of us in the room cannot be considered children, adolescents or even young. But we must not forget that young people must be part of the conversation. The issues we are discussing today are not issues we must resolve for young people, they must be resolved with and by young people.