05/09/2013 03:13 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2013

Listening to Young People on Sexual Health

Late last month, a U.N. taskforce published a report on sexual health, which had some important findings. Most striking was a statement from Ishita Chaudhry, who works to give a voice to younger people in India. "For us as young people, it's really not as controversial as it is for governments," she told a journalist. "We know that we need to be empowered to claim our human rights... and we understand that access to sexual, reproductive health and birth services, and comprehensive sexuality education is a key aspect of that empowerment."

This is a crucial issue for anyone who wants to create a better future. Wherever we live, we should foster a constructive dialogue about sexual and reproductive health, and we should support young people when they are brave enough to speak out.

Young people deserve proper access to contraception and other services. The consequences when it is restricted, whether because of economic or cultural constraints, are severe. Every year 16 million adolescent girls give birth across the world, and maternal mortality in this age group is often high. Many young people still do not have access to accurate information: a study of Sub-Saharan African found that about 60 percent of adolescent men and women had misperceptions about unintended pregnancy and HIV. This worrying lack of knowledge has stark and long-term implications for their physical and mental wellbeing.

The challenges around sex education are not limited to the developing world. In the U.S. (which has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world), around 750,000 girls between the age of 15 and 19 give birth every year, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Babies born to teenage mothers tend to have lower birth-weights than those whose mothers are older and young mothers are much less likely than their peers to complete high school or go on to get a college degree.

Comprehensive universal access to sex education and services would not only protect the health of our young people, but would also further gender equality and social justice across societies by empowering women to stay in education longer and to start families when they are ready, and not before. At the moment, 44 percent of the world's population -- 3 billion people -- is under the age of 25, the largest proportion in history. The benefits of making good information about contraception and sexual health available are clear.

It is only logical and fair that young men and women should be able to make their own healthy and well-informed choices about their bodies and private lives: sexual and reproductive rights are basic human rights. That's why it's great that young people themselves are ready to talk about this vital issue. Let's listen carefully to what they say.