Empowering young people in South Sudan

26 August 2019

UNFPA estimates that young people represent over 70% of the population in South Sudan. In order to build a safe and secure future for them, their access to education, health and economic empowerment is critical. This includes access to information on HIV and sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) as part of leaving no one behind in the AIDS response.

According to the 2010 South Sudan household survey, only 11% of young people in South Sudan have a comprehensive knowledge about HIV and, according to UNAIDS 2018 estimates, 30% of new HIV infections occur among young people aged 15–24 years old. Over 70% of new HIV infections in this age group are among adolescent girls and young women.

In order to shed light on this issue, UNAIDS, in partnership with government, civil society, UN Cosponsors and 22 youth-led organizations, supported the first-ever held National Youth Conference on HIV, sexual and reproductive health rights and gender equality which took place in Juba, South Sudan, on 21 and 22 August 2019. The theme for the conference was “Engage, Innovate and Act.”

“Young people are the future of the country and therefore should be at the forefront of the country’s HIV response. We are happy to continue providing you the necessary support to ensure that the HIV national strategy is implemented,” said Acol Ayom Dor, Deputy Chairperson of the South Sudan AIDS Commission, while addressing young people at the meeting.

The conference allowed for interactive discussions between participants, including over 100 young people from across the country, including young people with disabilities and refugees and internally displaced people.

“Young people are urged to engage on health issues to come up with innovative ideas that they can act upon—the country won’t be able to reach the 90–90–90 targets without us”, said Emmanuel Data Gordon, a youth activist and part of the organizing committee for the conference.

The two-day conference included skill-building sessions on a broad range of SRHR issues pertaining to young people’s health and human rights. This includes the widespread and systematic incidence of conflict-driven rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in South Sudan. Participants also discussed stigma and discrimination, barriers to access to SRHR services and information, early and forced marriage, menstrual health and comprehensive sexuality education for in and out-of-school youth.

During the second day of the conference young people developed a scorecard, which reviews the current state of the HIV, SRHR and SGBV response in South Sudan and how programmes, services and policies engage young people.

The scorecard is part of the global youth-led agenda called #UPROOT, which aims to advance the SRHR of young people by tackling the root causes that place young people at risk of HIV, including discrimination, inequalities, violence and exclusion.

The findings of the scorecard informed a Youth Compact for young people in South Sudan to strategically position, contribute and organize themselves and hold stakeholders accountable for commitments made on SRHR, HIV and gender equality. The implementation of the Youth Compact is supported by government, UNAIDS with Cosponsors and the South Sudan Aids Commission.