Why does the reproductive health of young people matter?

Today, approximately 3 billion people worldwide-half the world's population-are less than 25 years old.  This means the largest number of youth

CATALYST is defining "young people" as in the time period between ages 10-24, "adolescence" as ages 10-19 and "youth" as ages 15-24.
in history are in or entering their reproductive years.  More than 85% of this young population is living in developing, emerging or transition economies.  More than 40% of all teenage girls in the developing world will give birth before the age of 20.  Of the 131 million births each year, nearly 17 million are to young mothers 15-19 years of age, and the majority are unplanned.  Early childbearing often results in serious health consequences for very young women, who are two to four times as likely as women over age 20 to die from pregnancy-related causes.  Of the five million new HIV infections every year, about half occur in individuals between the ages of 15 and 24. 

Young people-even those who are married-remain underserved when it comes to having access to reproductive health information and services.  Health providers are often ill-equipped to handle the special reproductive health needs of youth, and young people frequently feel uncomfortable or lack the independence to seek out information about the myriad of issues related to their reproductive health.  Cultural traditions and sensitivities are also barriers to providing information and services to adolescents because of beliefs that such information will lead to promiscuity.  Many societies have longstanding traditions about what is expected and permitted regarding sexual activity and reproduction among the young people, and about how sexual information and values are communicated to them. 

The CATALYST Approach to Adolescent Reproductive Health

Although a time of risk, as indicated by the statistics above, adolescence is also a time of tremendous opportunity and promise.  CATALYST envisions a world where youth are seen as assets and resources and are encouraged to develop their full potential as educated, informed, healthy, responsible, active and valued citizens in their communities.  Accordingly, CATALYST's approach is grounded in rights and development that emphasize an investment in strengthening young people's assets.

Rights-based approach
CATALYST takes a rights-based approach to working with and for young people.  This includes giving information and education on sexuality and sexual health issues, providing youth-friendly services that ensure confidentiality and choice and ensuring that young people play a meaningful and active part in realizing their sexual and reproductive rights.  A rights-based approach places young people at the center of their own health and well-being as key actors rather than passive recipients.

Developmental approach

Protective factors help children and youths contend more effectively with risk factors and stressful life events.  They enhance the current and future resiliency of an individual, and are important to healthy development.  Examples include supportive relationships with caring adults, development of self-esteem, self-efficacy, autonomy and optimism, as well as the ability to contribute to one's community, school or family.  These have also been referred to as "assets."
A developmental approach links the context of adolescent lives to their sexual and reproductive health behavior.  Many of the situations that produce high-risk behavior among young people stem from environmental factors-particularly gender roles and relationships-and require broad developmental approaches. Positive adolescent outcomes cannot be brought about without understanding the nature and impact of the social, cultural and political environment, relationships and opportunities available for young people.  The underlying concept of this approach emphasizes that investing in young people's assets and protective factors (e.g. individual, family, environmental) is far more effective than focusing on "fixing" young people's problems.

CATALYST's approach is based on the idea that adolescent well-being is most effectively achieved by strengthening young peoples' capabilities, enlarging access to opportunities and providing them with safe and supportive environments.  Given the above, development is both an outcome (e.g. a measurable process of adolescent maturation) and an intervention strategy (e.g. putting into place those Components of social development, such as educational, financial and/or human resources that maximize risk-protective factors and promote youth development).

CATALYST merges the two approaches to achieve the best of both worlds.  This includes collecting and documenting innovative models, which increase the access of young people to the best possible reproductive health services.  CATALYST will assist in scaling up activities and strategies that improve the accessibility of quality reproductive health services for young people.  CATALYST will also support local organizations to increase youth involvement in decision-making capacities in both policy development and program implementation.

CATALYST is currently supporting research and services for adolescents in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Bangladesh and Egypt.