Addressing Sexual and Reproductive Health And Rights Crucial

Advocates are calling for greater attention to the promotion and fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the ASEAN region. Just released, “Engaging the ‘New’ ASEAN” highlights the urgency for wide collaboration amongst civil society to assist ASEAN member states to fulfill their commitments. Reducing maternal and child mortality and HIV and improving health outcomes for young people will contribute to the social, economic and environmental sustainability across the region.

"A joined up approach is critical to encourage greater recognition of sexual and reproductive health and rights at national and regional level, in line with international commitments and recommendations from UN monitoring Committees," emphasized Dr. Gill Greer, one of the authors of the kit, Time plus Talents Director and former Director General of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). "This is a critical time for civil society to engage with ASEAN and we hope this resource kit will serve as a useful tool to assist the many strong advocates in this region to engage and promote these rights within the ASEAN structure and bodies to achieve their ambitious vision for the region."

The 60-page resource kit, produced by the Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (APA), provides an overview of SRHR in ASEAN member states and the key ASEAN structures and stakeholders; and tools and frameworks with recommendations of opportunities for civil society engagement with ASEAN.

Unsafe abortions are estimated to cause 14-16% of all maternal deaths in the Southeast Asia region, a higher rate than in other sub-regions of Asia. And Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines all have a high unmet need for contraception; close to a quarter of their populations lack access to family planning. Vulnerable and marginalized groups including migrants, displaced persons, youth and the disabled, are among these underserved populations.

Promboon Paniychpakdi, Executive Director of the Raks Thai Foundation, stated that the rights of migrants are often transgressed in this region. Recently in Thailand the Ministry of Health announced plans to forcibly return female migrants who test positive for pregnancy, which was only retracted after civil society protests. Yet the government provides no family planning services or information to migrant populations, and female migrants are often left resorting to unsafe abortions. The government now has plans to ‘voluntarily’ return migrant children to states of origin - separating them from their parents.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights, which include the right to unrestricted access to contraception, bodily integrity and autonomy, full access to information and services, freedom from discrimination, and to live free from violence including child marriage and trafficking, still vary widely both within and between member states in ASEAN, and large disparities exist in people’s ability to enjoy these rights.

It is crucial that sexual and reproductive health and rights be included in the development of new regional documents, including the draft ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). The development of the AHRD has been highly contested by human rights groups as intransparent and lacking a consultative process with civil society, and there are fears the document will undercut international human rights standards.

All countries in ASEAN are already party to a number of binding international human rights documents which address these rights, including Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); as well as the commitments made to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action.

This is a critical time for ASEAN, in the run-up to the ASEAN Summit later this month, which includes a highly touted visit from the newly re-elected American President Barack Obama.

Citizen News Service - CNS