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Speech by Ms. Ritsu Nacken, Deputy UNFPA Representative in Viet Nam at the workshop on ‘Policies and Legislations on SRH for Adolescents and Youth’

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ritsue speechDate: Wed, 27 August 2014
Venue: 27a Tran Hung Dao, Ha Noi

  • Mr. Dao Trong Thi, Member of Central Party Committee, Member of NA Standing Committee, Chairman of the Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescents and Children (CCEYAC) - National Assembly;
  • Mr. Nguyen Van Thuyet, Vice-chairman of the Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescents and Children (CCEYAC) - National Assembly;
  • Representatives from the Ministry of Education and Training, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Home Affairs, Youth Union, other concerned ministries and other social organizations and civil societies;
  • Representatives of Young People;
  • Ladies and gentlemen;
  • Good morning to you all.

On behalf of the United Nations Population Fund in Viet Nam, I would like to thank the Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescents and Children (CCEYAC) of the National Assembly (NA) for your valuable monitoring work and for organizing this important workshop.

As we know, young people have played a significant role in Viet Nam’s growth and they represent an increasingly important proportion of the labour force, both now and well into the future. The issues related to their health and wellbeing including sexual and reproductive health are therefore of utmost importance to Viet Nam’s productivity and development.

The fact that Viet Nam has entered the period of golden population – when nearly 40% of the people are between the ages 10 and 29 – the highest proportion of young people ever in Viet Nam's history, provides a unique opportunity for the country’s development, but also challenges. This is a critical time for Viet Nam, and we need to ensure that young people the support they need to become the present and future owners of the country. Therefore, I welcome this opportunity to discuss and provide recommendations for the implementation of policies and programs on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and rights for young people.

Distinguished guests,
Viet Nam has made impressive progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Over the past decades, Viet Nam has invested a substantial amount of resources in the overall health and education of young people. But an unfinished agenda remains. As the National Assembly monitoring mission report discussed today also confirms, young people still lack sufficient information and life skills related to reproductive health and sexuality. This leaves them vulnerable to high-risk behavior and ill-health outcomes, including unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV, sexual abuse and gender-based violence.

The coverage of SRH services including family planning has been expanded and the quality of services has been improved. However, the SRH/FP programs are traditionally targeted for married couples only. No specific national program addressing the growing needs of unmarried young people has yet been implemented. Sexuality education at schools remains limited. Certain groups, such as young migrants and ethnic minority youth, still have only limited access to SRH information and services. Data also show that one-third of Vietnamese young people continue to face barriers when trying to access reproductive health information and services, such as contraception. There is lot to improve still.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Sexual and reproductive health and life skills are issues that greatly concern young people, as among other important things such as education and employment. In this regard, let me highlight areas where we particularly need to focus our efforts on:

Firstly: generating evidence. There is a need to conduct research and build evidence on young people’s SRH needs, particularly among the most vulnerable groups such as unmarried young people, young migrants and ethnic minority youth. Evidence will help the government to develop and implement appropriate evidence based policies and to allocate sufficient budget to areas where support is most needed.

Secondly: comprehensive sexuality education. Evidence shows that age-appropriate, gender-sensitive and life skills-based, comprehensive sexuality education can provide young people with the knowledge and skills they need to make informed decisions about their sexuality and lifestyle. Comprehensive sexuality education programs help youth to stay healthy and avoid negative sexual health outcomes such as unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. Therefore, we need to reinforce the implementation of sexuality education in schools and also build capacities for teachers to deliver the information effectively. Besides that, we also need innovative approaches to deliver sexuality education at the communities.

Thirdly: youth-friendly SRH services that respond to the current needs of the huge young population. As Viet Nam experiences rapid economic and social development, sexual norms and behavior are also changing. Young people become sexually active earlier, and due to limited access to SRH information and contraceptives they often have unprotected sex. Therefore, quality and youth-friendly reproductive health services that respond to young people’s real needs need to be readily available, especially for unmarried young people. It is essential that these services are private and confidential, affordable, accessible to all, and delivered by trained providers.

Fourthly: Implementation of laws, policies and budgeting. In order for young people to access comprehensive sexuality education and appropriate SRH services, we must ensure that the laws and policies really reach young people as intended. While the Government of Viet Nam has issued many impressive laws and policies for young people, much more effort is needed to enforce the implementation of these policies, especially at sub-national levels to ensure that all young people receive the vital information and services they need. We recommend the Government to allocate sufficient budget to address the unmet needs for SRH, especially contraception for unmarried young people, and even more so as the external support resources are declining.

Finally: Youth Participation. We recommend the NA to work with relevant ministries and other organizations to create enabling environment for young people to dialogue with policy makers on issues related to their SRH and actively participate in the policy development. Evidence shows that working in partnership with young people is an essential component of any successful youth programme, but young people often lack opportunities to be heard in the decision making. It is our responsibility to listen to our youth and take their suggestions into account in the policy design and implementation.
As we have youth representatives with us here at this workshop, I look forward to hearing their voices and active feedback. .

Distinguished guests,
Sexual and reproductive health is vital to our life. Therefore, promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people has to be placed at the center of Viet Nam’s development policies and strategies. When young men and women are healthy and possess the necessary life skills, they are better able to complete their education, engage in productive activities, take better care of their children, and fully contribute to their communities.

UNFPA stays committed to support the National Assembly in its role in the oversight of youth development and in the development SRH policies and legislation. UNFPA also stays committed to support the line ministries and provincial people’s councils in the implementation of these laws and policies. By working together, we can make universal access to sexual and reproductive health for young people become a reality.

Thank you very much for your attention. I wish you all good health, happiness and success.

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