Adolescents regardless their marital status deserve access to sexual and reproductive health services, according to stakeholders at a roundtable on Wednesday.
Besides, ramping up mass awareness programmes is imperative to ensure proper family planning among the married in a bid to achieve zero unmet need for contraception – one of the three key goals set by the United Nations Population Fund for countries to meet by 2030, they added.
"Promoting age-appropriate comprehensive sexual education and focusing on the unmarried youth population will help us reach the goal of having proper sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights," Mainul Islam, professor of population science at Dhaka University, said at the event organised by the Power and Participation Research Centre and the United Nations Population Fund at The Business Standard Office in the capital.
"A large portion of adolescents are unmarried. We must take care of them and provide them with necessary information and services [about reproductive health] on time," said Dr Qamrun Nahar who represented the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh.
"The biggest problem behind the lack of appropriate facilities to ensure safe sexual and reproductive health is the societal taboo. Without addressing this issue and conducting proper advocacy, safe access to sexual and reproductive health and rights won't be possible," said Inam Ahmed, editor of The Business Standard.
Titled "Family Planning/SRHR and Adolescents in Bangladesh: What are the Priority Issues?", the roundtable presented Bangladesh's situation of reproductive healthcare.
Bangladesh has a target of achieving zero unmet need for contraception by 2030, which currently stands at 12% among married women aged between 15-49. The percentage is, however, higher among adolescents – at 15%.
The unmet need for contraception refers to the percentage of married women aged between 15 and 49 who do not want any more children or want the next child after a two-year break but do not use any method of birth control, Professor Mainul Islam explained.
"The rate of unmet need among married women in Chattogram, Sylhet and Barisal is much higher than that of the national level. In Chattogram, it is 18%. According to the 8th five-year plan, the government has a target to bring down the rate of the unmet need by 8% within 2025," he added.
Power and Participation Research Centre Executive Chairman Hossain Zillur Rahman, Director of Directorate General of Family Planning Dr Mahmudur Rahman, Family Planning Association of Bangladesh representative Halima Begum, former professor of economics at Dhaka University Barkat-e-Khuda, and Adolescent and Youth Specialist at Pathfinder International Dr Fatema Shabnam, among others, spoke at the event.
Dr Fatema Shabnam said, "The engagement of parents and in-laws must be ensured if we want to provide safe family planning for adolescent girls."
"Inadequate counselling is one of the reasons behind the high rate of discontinuation [abortion]," said Barkat-e-Khuda, adding that a lack of coordination between different ministries and departments is another reason behind this scenario.
Currently, only (married) couples have access to family planning methods, said Dr Mahmudur Rahman. "If we want to reduce the unmet need to zero, we also have to focus on adolescents. Because today's adolescents will lead 2041's developed country."
Apart from zero unmet need for contraception, the United Nations Population Fund has a target to achieve two more zeros by 2030 – zero preventable maternal deaths and zero violence or harmful practices against women and girls.