Sri Lanka has some policies in place that activists in other countries envy. These free education and free healthcare in state institutions; questions only rise in implementation and clarity of the policies. One such remarkable policy was that the Ministry of Health had reproductive health services available free of charge to adolescents below the age of 18 years.
However, clarity and awareness about the policy was lacking. Some magistrates were not aware of the policy and there were times when health workers were taken to court for issuing contraceptive to adolescents. This posed a problem as it hindered the work of healthcare providers and discouraged them from providing essential medical care to adolescents.
Each time a healthcare provider was summoned to court officials from Ministry of Health (MoH) and Family Health Bureau (FHB) had to intervene and provide explanations to the courts for providing such services.
In light of this, a circular was issued by the Director General of Health Services, clearly outlining the broad range of health services to which adolescents have been granted access for the essential health requirements.
To ensure that the circular reached the magistrates and that they are fully aware of the contents of circular a technical advisory committee meeting for young person’s health was organized and it was agreed that the MoH would work with the Attorney Generals Department and Judicial Services Commission to introduce the directive to the magistrates.
A programme with Magistrates was established to make this new directive of the MoH clear to them and guarantee implementation of the circular would continue uninterrupted.
Understanding the importance of such a programme, the UNFPA – the United Nations Population Fund— supported the initiative in bringing several magistrates together with senior members of Attorney General’s Department, Director General of Health Services, and the director of the judges institute together for an instructive meeting.
The event was headed by, her ladyship, President’s Council, and Judges’ Institute, Eva Wanasundera.
Why free reproductive health care for adolescents is important
The UNFPA Country Representative, Alain Sibenaler, said during his address at the gathering that it is the obligation of every state to ensure that policies and strategies are in place; and investments are continuously made to fulfill these rights.
He went on to say that young people in Sri Lanka constitute 15.6 per cent of the population and it is of great importance that their health and safety are ensured.
“I am extremely proud that the Government of Sri Lanka, through the Ministry of Health has decided to concretely address the issue of sexual reproductive health services for young people through the issuing of a General Circular. This clearly defines the reproductive health services that can be offered to young people below 18 years of age by health workers” he concluded.
The circular is a significant progressive milestone in ensuring rights of adolescents for sexual and reproductive health services and information. It has clearly widened the scope of the Reproductive Health services and information made available for young people in Sri Lanka.