Adolescents’ & Young People's Vulnerabilities to HIV & AIDS
Vulnerability can be defined as the degree to which an individual or a section of population has control over their risk of acquiring HIV. Vulnerability occurs when people are limited in their abilities to make and carry out free and informed decisions. Young people are comparatively more vulnerable to HIV & AIDS than older people primarily because of socio- cultural, economic, behavioural, psychological and emotional factors as well as lack of access to scientific information and educational opportunities that enhance life skills.
Social Norms and Attitudes
§ Today AIDS is recognized as a development issue and not just a heath related problem.
§ Social norms and expectations as well as community attitudes towards sexual behaviour of young people contributes to their risk for HIV & AIDS and make it more difficult to address the epidemic.
§ Certain traditional and cultural practices, for example marriage practices, rites of passage, sexual practices, women’s status etc. add to the risk of HIV infection.
Unemployment, Poverty and Exploitation
§ Poverty, unemployment, deprivation and lack of hope for the future, forces young people to choose options that can expose them to increased risk.
§ Economic opportunities attract more and more young men and women away from homes and into towns & cities. Many enter multiple sexual relationships that carry risk of HIV and thus transmit the infection from urban to rural areas well as act as bridge between high-risk groups and general population.
§ Female migrant workers in domestic or seasonal work are often sexually exploited, whereas many children and adolescents may become involved in sex work because of lack of alternatives with them and their parents.
Ideologies and Taboos
§ Certain taboos, ideologies and social norms make young people more vulnerable to HIV. This is particularly the case where they are denied knowledge and skills on sexual and reproductive matters.
§ Unmarried young peoples are generally socially discouraged or even barred from seeking reproductive health services including HIV prevention and STI care and counselling. Consequently, they are left alone to struggle and deal with their biological and social transformation.
§ Under such a situation quite often it becomes difficult for them to take well-informed and responsible decisions about relationships and sexual behaviour.
Stigma and Discrimination
§ Stigma attached to HIV & AIDS due to sexual connotations and consequent discrimination of People Living with HIV and AIDS, further discourages the young people to talk and discuss about HIV & AIDS or seek prevention and testing facilities.
Young People in Difficult Circumstances
§ In difficult situations viz. conflict, violence, instability, natural disaster, the displaced young people, and especially young women are exposed to increased risk of HIV & AIDS. Under such circumstances, social norms break down and more risk taking behaviour prevails. The situation is often compounded by lack of access to basic reproductive health care including contraceptive services and counselling.
§ The vulnerability of young people to sexual violence and sexual abuse further puts them at high risk of contracting HIV infection. For example, street children, migrants and refugees may also be at particular risk because of stigma, their exposure to unprotected sex (in exchange of food, money or protection) and the use of illicit drugs.
Adolescent Behavior and Inexperience
§ ‘Adolescence’ is recognized as a period of psychological immaturity with tendency towards risk taking and experimentation. Adolescents are unable to judge and appreciate the adverse consequences of their actions.
§ The risk of HIV & AIDS may be particularly hard for young people to grasp as it has a long incubation period and the consequences of a person's risky behavior does not become visible immediately.
§ Many adolescents are unaware of what constitutes risky sexual or non-sexual behaviour that enhances the risk to HIV.
Ignorance and Myths
§ Ignorance about the epidemic and myths about HIV & AIDS remains pervasive among young people and some times if they appreciate the risk of HIV & AIDS, many young people believe that they themselves are invulnerable or invincible. It leads them to ignore the risk of infection, thereby taking unnecessary risks.
Risk taking Behaviour and Experimentation
§ Young people are also vulnerable to HIV because of their risk taking behaviour and experimenting with alcohol, tobacco, substance use and sex. Among older adolescents, peers have a greater influence on sexual and risk taking behaviour than the opinions of parents and other adults.
Lack of Information and Education
§ Many young people are at risk of contracting HIV infection because they do not have skills to protect themselves and others.
§ Ironically, some adults still think that sexuality education encourages sexual experimentation; consequently, programmes and campaigns often are limited in what they can discuss. At the same time, traditional ways of educating the young about sex have diminished or disappeared altogether, therefore, opportunities for telling young people about sex are gradually being lost.
Dwindling Social and Traditional Bonds
§ The social bonds and traditions that used to shape young people's behaviour and help them make the transition to adulthood have weakened in the face of urbanization, new attitude towards sexuality and the breaking down of the joint and extended families. As a result, more young people are sexually active but without adequate information to protect themselves.
Inaccessible Prevention Services
§ Young people lack access to prevention services (counselling, condoms, Voluntary counseling and testing). Many factors discourage young people from using health services. This includes, lack of privacy and confidentiality, insensitive attitude of the staff, threatening environment, an inability to afford services and the fact that services often do not cater to clients who are minors.
How to prevent HIV & AIDS amongst adolescents and Young people?Ingredients for successful prevention include promoting correct knowledge of HIV and AIDS, the adoption of healthy lifestyles, improving access to condoms and enlisting policymakers’ support for the needs and rights of adolescents and young people. Prevention efforts must be aimed at school-age children and young people in general, as well as providing focused interventions for those vulnerable and most at risk. All this will come about only when young people themselves are central actors in the planning, implementation and monitoring of programmes that affect them.