Right to be informed | Sunday Observer

Right to be informed

2 January, 2022

Before March 2020, the world was plagued with quite a lot of issues. Enter pandemic, every such issue paled into significance, and Covid 19 took the lead. Paled into insignificance they may be, but issues prevail unless they are meshed by some remedy. Some issues would remain to eat away the human healthiness in the long run.

Lack of awareness of proper sexual and reproductive health is one issue that has burdened the country though remedial measures are taken to a certain extent. The United Nations Population Fund defines good sexual and reproductive health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. The definition points out the people’s ability to have a satisfying and safe sex life, the capability to reproduce and the freedom of choice. The solution, as well as the remedy to the issue, is quite clear: one must be informed and that empowers protection.

But then the average Sri Lankan youths lack exactly that: being informed, properly. Although sexual and reproductive health is included in the school syllabus, it does not seem to produce an effective outcome.

Internet, the biggest challenge

The loudest cry comes from technology. The Internet poses the biggest challenge with its wide-open information floodgates. The heavy exodus of information only keeps the younger generation from accessing accurate and relevant information. Rather, one-click provides easy access to cybercrimes and pornography which are addictive and therefore harmful to general human health. A study conducted by a team including Professor Indralal de Silva of the University of Colombo reveals how internet usage among youth has increased by many folds. The team’s findings indicate that it is imperative to formulate and implement policy and legal provisions to address the issues related to cybercrimes. Cybercrimes include bullying and forced sex.

The average youth needs to be aware of not only the cybercrimes and the different forms of offences available in cyberspace, but also the mechanism to report against the very perpetrators. This familiarity is essential at this juncture which must result in further expansion of the current child protection policy and youth policy. The protection against cybercrimes in this manner must be the rescue path.

It all begins with teenage thanks to curiosity inherent in humans. The most vulnerable group, therefore, is aged between 15 and 24. Due to education, finances and other social factors, this group consists of a population mostly unmarried. The study was carried out primarily to identify and explore key sexual and reproductive issues among unmarried youth aged between 15 and 24 in three districts: Hambantota, Nuwara Eliya and Puttalam.

A three-layered data collection approach has been adopted as the overall data collection methodology of the study. At the first layer, information was collected from various secondary data sources including population census and various national surveys to highlight the demographic and socio-economic change of youth in Sri Lanka. The collection of qualitative data was the target of the second layer. The most important and specific quantitative data related to the sexual and reproductive health of youth were collected from a field survey, which covered 1100 unmarried youth aged between 15 and 24 years.

During the past couple of decades, the population of youth, aged between 15 and 29, has changed significantly in Sri Lanka. Their size reached a record peak of 5.1 million in 2001. By 2012, however, the figure lowered to has reduced to 4.7 million. Interestingly, an increase has been observed since 2017. The size of the youth population, aged 15-29, has been estimated to increase in numbers. The figure is expected to be 4.8 million by 2022. Significant growth of the youth population can be observed by 2032 with 5.2 million. A large volume would remain with the same numbers until 2042, resulting in a youth bulge.

The youth bulge

The youth bulge is a common phenomenon in many developing countries. This is often due to a stage of development where a country achieves success in reducing infant mortality but mothers still have a high fertility rate. The result is what the figures tell us: a large share of the population consists of children and young adults.


The youth bulge is an interesting factor in terms of economic efficiency. It is a demographic dividend, which as the United Nations Population Fund defines, is ‘the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population’s age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population is larger than the non-working-age share of the population’. This makes great sense only if the population is efficient and well aware. An ignorant and inefficient majority of a particular population calls for worse times and conditions.

Stress effects

“Close to a quarter of youth use mobile phones extensively during their day to day activities and a similar proportion of youth suffer from mental stresses due to the content on the internet. This may result in the increase of self-harm and suicide among youth in near future. On average, Sri Lankan youth spends more than two hours per day watching TV. Therefore, increasing awareness among youth on advantages as well as negative impacts of new technology and internet is a timely need,” Professor de Silva said.

“Significantly a large proportion of male respondents compared to their female counterparts have obtained various types of sexual and reproductive health information largely from the internet accessed via their own mobile phones. However, it is questionable whether they receive correct knowledge through the internet as they might not process the capabilities and skills to find and read only the credible sources on the internet. However, approximately one-half of the female respondents reported their mother as the most common source for SRH information, followed by friends,” Professor de Silva added.

Source of information

Youth in general, especially unmarried youth, should be desensitized to the norms that inhibit the communication of sexuality and reproduction. The knowledge of adults such as the mother, the father and close relatives of the family should be improved, and young people should be encouraged to seek their advice as a source of information on Sexual and Reproductive Health issues.

“The close family should be encouraged to engage in an open discussion with young people where needed. Improve the knowledge base of young people on social values and norms, whereby family solidarity could be strengthened. This could be an important supportive strategy to produce productive and balanced youth for the post-Covid-19 era and the well-being of Sri Lanka,” Professor de Silva said.

The proportion of youth in Sri Lanka who had the experience of a love affair is higher for females (91 per cent) than their male (87 per cent) counterparts. In the 15-19 age group 86 and 87 per cent of males and females respectively experienced at least a single love affair. This is a significant rise in love affairs among Sri Lankan youth compared to previous research findings.

Lack of knowledge

Both males and females possessed relatively low overall knowledge on male reproductive organs, in comparison with female organs. Except for the knowledge on ovaries and fallopian tubes, male youth tend to report better knowledge not only on their own reproductive organs but also on female organs than their female counterparts.

Of the total youth in the study, only 44 per cent reported the correct knowledge on the level of protection by modern methods of contraception. This could increase the vulnerability for unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among Sri Lankan youth.

Among the unmarried male and female youth of the 15-24 age groups more than 53 per cent of males and 33 per cent of females had knowledge of their friends’ experience on sexual intercourse. In the 20-24 age category, almost 60 per cent of males indicated having that knowledge of friends’ having such experience.

Among the male youth of the 15-19 age group, over 22 per cent had experience in sexual intercourse, while only 9 per cent of female youth had the same. Almost 30 per cent of male youth in the 20-24 age category reported that experience. As they are unmarried youth, such significant proportions may have a long-term unfavourable outcome for them individually as well as for society. Compared to males, females (13 per cent) showed a low tendency in engaging in premarital sex

Among the unmarried male youth who engaged in sexual intercourse, almost three-quarters had used contraceptives while the corresponding figure for females was only two-thirds.

Among the sexually active 15-19 age group respondents in the study sample, around 60 and 57 per cent of unmarried males and females respectively used contraceptives. This could increase the risk of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among Sri Lankan youth.

“This behaviour among the youths will definitely escalate in the post-Covid era. That is why it is not a wise option to open all educational institutions at once. That will only pave the way for more unleashing of suppressed feelings. We must focus on the proper education of sexual and reproductive health. Otherwise, we will never be able to overcome this situation,” Professor de Silva said.

And that needs attention on a larger scale. Perhaps over and above all else.