Access to sexual health services should be widely available, unbiased toward age, gender or marital status and free of cultural taboos that have long prevented youth from seeking services, a forum of young people concluded Monday.
Organized by the US Agency for International Development-funded advisory group Policy Project, the Voice of Youth reproductive health congress enlisted about 100 garment workers, sex workers, street youth, transsexuals, youth leaders and university students to discuss sexual health concerns. The congress elected two participants, Soth Nimol and Ros Sokunthy, to present their findings to a May 3 meeting of ministers, secretaries of state and donors on incorporating issues faced by young people into the government’s reproductive health policies.
Among their recommendations was including more substantial sex education in the national curriculum. Public secondary education does cover basic information about HIV and AIDS, said Kim Sanh, vice administration office chief of the Education Ministry’s School Health Department. But, that information is often difficult for students to use in real life, said Moeun Channa, 20, a discussion group facilitator and volunteer with the NGO Health Unlimited.
The students he works with usually know what a condom is, but some are so confused by its use that they wear two or three during sex, Moeun Channa said.
Even when services are available, accessing them can be tricky. Many single people fear they will be discriminated against if they seek sexual health services at clinics, and even appearing to know too much about sex can cast a young person’s reputation into doubt—especially for women.
Garment factory employee Chrek Sophea, 23, said one of her friends was forbidden by her parents to attend the congress. “They say, ‘if you join this meeting, you are not a good girl. If you speak out about reproductive health, you are not a good girl,’” she said.
Changing those attitudes is key to better health services, said Oum Phalyka, 22, a technical assistant with Policy Project.
“This is a way of leading a healthy life, not something outside norm culture,” she said.