Affirming the Rights of Young People African Regional Agreements at Summits and Conferences

Posted: April 3, 2011 in African Youth and development, African Youth Summit, Youth Opportunities

Also available in [PDF] format.

In sub-Saharan Africa, young people ages 10-24 make up a third of the population, and in some countries within the region, the proportion of young people is more than half of the total population.[1] These youth play a pivotal role in supporting the growth and development of the continent. Yet a lack of access to reproductive and sexual health information, services, and supplies puts the health and lives of many young people at serious risk. Around the world, forty percent of new HIV infections are among young people, and sixteen million adolescents give birth each year – with the vast majority (more than 90 percent) of the world’s HIV infections and adolescent births occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.[1,2] The African Union recognizes the critical importance of helping young people protect their sexual and reproductive health and giving young people a voice in decisions that affect their future.

Established in 2002, the African Union consists of 53 African countries working to promote the growth, peace and security of Africa. The government and members of the African Union have joined together to implement programs and policies that encourage youth to take action and responsibility in ensuring the development of the continent as well as their wellbeing. The Union recognizes that young people make up the fastest growing population in Africa and that youth are essential assets to the progression and positive future development of Africa.

The African Union has played a crucial role in the development of regional agreements aimed at providing young people with the resources and health services they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle and in the long run assist in the advancement of Africa. This document provides an overview of five such agreements that address the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people: the African Youth Charter, the Maputo Plan of Action, the Fifth African Development Forum, the Abuja Call for Accelerated Action, and the Abuja Declaration on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Diseases. Youth advocates and adult allies working to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in Africa should become familiar with these agreements, so that they may hold leaders accountable to these commitments.


The African Youth Charter is guided by the vision of the African Union to promote and emphasize the importance of the youth ages 15 to 35 to the development of Africa.[3]

The ultimate goal of the African Youth Charter (AYC) is to address the principal issues facing African Youth. As identified by the UNFPA, there are four major issues that are affecting African youth. They are as follows:

  • Education, employment and youth development;
  • Women and girl rights;
  • Quality sexual reproductive health services; and
  • Youth participation involvement and empowerment.[4]

Within the AYC, there is specific language on youth, health, and women and girls. The articles that address these are as follows:

Article 16: Health

  • “Every young person shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical, mental and spiritual health.”[4]
  • State Parties shall, “secure the full involvement of youth in identifying their reproductive and health needs and designing programs that respond to these needs with special attention to vulnerable and disadvantaged youth…”[4]
  • State Parties shall, “provide access to youth friendly reproductive health services including contraceptives, antenatal and post natal services.”[4]

Article 23: Girls and Young Women

State Parties shall, “take steps to provide equal access to health care services and nutrition for girls and young women”[4]

State Parties shall, “enact and enforce legisla- tion that protect girls and young women from all forms of violence, genital mutilation, incest, rape, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, trafficking, prostitution and pornography”[4]

State Parties shall, “secure the right for young women to maternity leave”[4]

The Charter pays close attention to, and understands that there is a greater concern of African Youth who are “… marginalized from mainstream society through inequalities in income, wealth and power, unemployment and underemployment, infected and affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, living in situations of poverty and hunger, experiencing illiteracy and poor quality educational systems, restricted access to health services and to information, exposure to violence including gender and violence, engaging in armed conflicts and experiencing various forms of discrimination.”[4] Therefore, the AYC reaffirms the need to take proper steps and precautions to promote and protect the welfare of youth.

While the Charter does include language that is specific to youth and the health and women and girls, the document does not identify ways that young people can get involved or be included in their local communities to promote and ensure youth development.


The Maputo Plan of Action was adopted during the Special Session of the African Union Conference of Ministers of Health in September of 2006.5 The aim of this Special Session was to identify a plan of action for the initiation of the Continental Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy Framework, which would also link HIV/AIDS with reproductive health services.[6]

The Maputo Plan of Action, commonly referred to as the Plan of Action on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, seeks to improve the status of the continent by progressing towards worldwide access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in African by 2015. The Plan of Action realizes the urgent need to improve the health status of the African population in order to attain the Millennium Development Goals.[6]

In the Maputo Plan of Action, the African Union Ministers make specific reference to sexual and reproductive health; indicating that it should be among the highest six priorities of the health sector.[6]

Action Areas of the Maputo Plan of Action

In the Maputo Plan of Action, there are specific action areas that are prioritized to address some of the greatest concerns and threats to African countries. These areas include:

  • Integration of sexual and reproductive health services (SRH) into Primary Health Care (PHC);
  • Repositioning family planning;
  • Developing and promoting youth-friendly services;
  • Unsafe abortion;
  • Quality safe motherhood;
  • Resource mobilization;
  • Commodity security; and
  • Monitoring and evaluation.[6]

Addressing Young People

The Maputo Plan of Action includes language on young people specifically. The Plan of Action identifies “young people” as one of the prior- ity target groups among several other groups including men and women of reproductive age, and displaced persons among others.6 Most im- portantly, the strategic actions for implementing the Continental Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Policy Framework does an incredible job in noting the actions that need to be taken for young people. Such actions include:

• Provide sexuality education for young people in and out of school;

• Strengthen implementation and or advocacy for policies that support the provision of sexual reproductive health and rights services addressing the needs of young people; and

• Cerebrate a day for the sexual reproductive health and rights services for young people.[6]

Much of the declaration illustrates challenges facing low and middle income countries that need assistance in regards to pivotal areas such as HIV/AIDS, education and women. The Declaration is a step toward the realization of the goals these countries must achieve.


The Fifth African Development Forum, “Youth and Leadership in the 21st Century”, was the first to focus on young people.[7] The Forum was organized by the Economic Commission for Africa and partner, The African Union.

The Fifth African Development Forum (ADF-V) stresses that any policy implemented to promote progression of the continent must identify the importance and urgent need to address young people. The Forum provides an environment to discuss and implement approaches for the devel- opment of Africa.[8]

Definition of Youth

Organizations have found difficulties determining a proper definition for youth because their focus has previously been on younger children or adults. However, The Fifth African Development Forum adopted the definition used by The African Union in the African Youth Charter. Youth are therefore defined as those between the ages of 15 and 35 years.

African Development Forum Work Program

The Work Program of the ADF-V focuses on mak-ing youth essential in the progression and development of Africa. For that reason the work program has three key standpoints in order to reach this goal:

  • Youth as a base for economic development;
  • Youth as a dynamic force for social transformation and progress; and
  • Youth as a factor for change in governance and political development in Africa.[8]

Within these standpoints, there is specific language that addresses young people, health, girls and young women. They are as follows:

Youth and Economic Development:

Young People, Health and HIV/AIDS: With HIV/ AIDS proving to be the number one risk to young women in Africa, it has been noted that much needs to be done in order stop the pandemic. The ADF-V recognizes both direct and indirect ways address these issues. Direct tactics include comprehensive sexual education, life skills, access to condoms, etc. Indirect tactics include increasing young girl’s education opportunities so that they are more empowered and knowledgeable regarding engaging in sexual activities such as selling or trading sex.[8]

Youth and Social Development:

ADF-V recognizes that the culture of most African societies has subjected most young women and girls to household labor, therefore hindering their economic and social growth. Also recognizing that young women and girls are more likely to fall victim to serious health issues such as sexually transmitted infections and HIV, the ADF-V suggests the importance of educating young women and girls and also recognizes the positive outcome of implementing certain commitments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and others.[8]

The Fifth African Development Forum cites young people as an important factor in the development and progression of the African continent. The forum goes even further to illustrate the essential need for commitments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to be implemented to help support the objectives the forum has set in place. Most importantly the Forum notes the importance of essential tactics such as comprehensive sexual education and access to condoms to improve the rate at which young women fall victim to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.


In May 2006, members of the African Union met in Abuja, Nigeria to evaluate the Abuja Declaration and Plan of Action on HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Infectious Diseases (ORID) of 2001.[9] The theme for this declaration is “Universal Access to HIV and AIDS; Tuberculosis and Malaria Services by a United Africa by 2010.” Of the twelve priorities for the Abuja Plan of Action on HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Diseases; Protection for Human Rights focuses particularly on women, youth and children.

Priorities for the Abuja call toward universal Access

The twelve priorities for the Abuja Call toward Universal Access include:

  • Leadership at National, Regional and Continental Levels to mobilize the society as a whole;
  • Resource Mobilization;
  • Protection for Human Rights, Poverty, Health and Development;
  • Strengthening Health Systems;
  • Prevention of Primary and Secondary Infections;
  • Improvement of Information, Education and Communication;
  • Access to Treatment, Care and Support;
  • Access to Affordable Drugs and Technologies;
  • Research and Development on HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis and ORID;
  • Partnership; and
  • Monitoring and Evaluation.[10]

The African Union has noted that as individuals move from country to country within the conti- nent, HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis spread. As a result, they have realized the urgent need to take proper action to fight against the spread of these diseases. However, they face several challenges and obstacles in the process. A few of these challenges include:

  • Lack of adequate policies protecting the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis;
  • Failure to link the correlation between HIV and AIDS with sexual and reproductive health; and
  • Stigma and discrimination of people infected with HIV/AIDS.[10]

While reaffirming the commitments cited in the Millennium Development Goals and rededicating themselves to the protection of human rights, specific reference is made to young people, wom- en and health:

“To continue promoting an enabling pol- icy, legal and social environment that promotes human rights particularly for women, youth and children and ensure the protection of people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, TV and Malaria and to reduce vulnerability and marginalization including conflict-affected and displaced persons, refugees and returnees.”[10]

Noting the difficulties and challenges Africa faces regarding HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, the agreement acknowledges the need to take prevention, treatment, care and support measures. Within these measures, they recognize the need to improve information, education and communication; investing in evidence-based prevention that focuses primarily on young people, women, girls and other groups; and to provide universal access to male and female condoms for all persons who are sexually active. Interestingly, the agreement makes reference to continuing the promotion of traditional values on abstinence, but also emphasizes the need to continue to increase condom use.[10]

With young people being an essential tool in the positive progression of Africa, it is imperative to have youth involved in their local communities to promote and ensure youth development. This particular agreement does make mention of that; stating that youth among other groups are needed:

  • For the fight against HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria;
  • To develop frameworks that will provide substantial results;
  • To support the mobilization for prevention, care and support and treatment based activities; and
  • To facilitate the operationalization of all commitments.[10]


The African Union Heads of State and Government met in Abuja, Nigeria in April 2001 to hold a special summit focused on HIV/AIDS; Tuberculosis (TB); and Other Related Infectious Diseases (ORID).10 The results brought forth the commitment made by African States to make HIV/AIDS one of the major priorities of their national development program.[11]
Concerned about rapid spread of HIV infection, tuberculosis, and other related infectious diseas- es, the Heads of State met to review the situation and develop strategic plans and policies that could be implemented to alleviate and monitor the situation. In an attempt to do so, the Heads of State made specific reference to young people, prioritizing their needs in order to progress as a continent. They recognized the following:

  • Special efforts are required to ensure that Africa’s children are protected from these pandemics and their consequences and that the full and effective participation of young people in prevention and control programs is essential to their success;
  • Special needs and challenges of the HIV/AIDS pandemic for the young that make them vulnerable to infection and adverse impacts of the epidemic; and
  • Education will play a major role in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.[11]

Recognizing these issues, the Heads of State declared AIDS as a State of Emergency for the continent. As a result, they made the following commitments:

  • To place HIV/AIDS as the major priority issue regarding the national development plans;[12]
  • Ensure that the needs of susceptible groups are met. These groups include women, children, youth, workers and others;[11]
  • Improve quality of and access to education, information and youth programs regarding HIV/AIDS;[12]
  • Allocate at least 15% of the annual national budget to improve the health sector;[11] and
  • Formulate a continental wide policy with the assistance of the African Union Secretariat.[12]

The Abuja Framework identifies youth as a priority population and HIV/AIDS as a major priority issues for national development plans. It also highlights the need for improved quality of HIV/ AIDS education and programs for young people although components of effective programming, such as comprehensive sexuality education, are not specifically articulated.


The agreements described in this fact sheet are important tools for youth activists and adult allies working to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people within Africa. These agreements have shown that governments in Africa are increasingly recognizing the importance of prioritizing youth; however, much work needs to be done to hold leaders accountable to their commitments. Understanding the commitments that already exist is key to demanding that accountability and to identifying remaining policy gaps to advocate for in future negotiations.
Advocates for Youth © February 2011

Written by Olaide Aiyegbusi, International Division, with contributions from Elizabeth Orlan, Zemen Retta, and Maritza Pedlar


1. UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2010. Accessed from on February 15, 2011.

2. World Health Organization. “Making Pregnancy Safer.” Accessed from safer/topics/adolescent_pregnancy/en/index.html on February 15, 2011.

3. African Union. African Youth Charter. english.pdf. Accessed November 15, 2010.

4. Ashenafi, E., Imran, L. UNFPA. ICPD-MDGs-AYC-Working as One!-2009. Accessed from http://files.tiggroups. org/90021/get-web/ICPD_MDG_AYC_Youth_Position_ Oct09_NO_COVER.pdf on February 15, 2011.

5. The African Union Commission. Plan of Action on Sex- ual and Reproductive Health and Rights ( Maputo Plan of Action. eng.pdf. Accessed November 23, 2010.

6. Special Session of the Conference of African Union Min- isters of Health. Conferences/Past/2006/September/SA/Maputo/CAMH2.htm . Accessed November 29, 2010.

7. The Fifth African Development Forum (ADF-V). Youth and Leadership in the 21st Century. http://www.uneca. org/adfv/Concept_Paper.htm. Accessed November 18, 2010.

8. The Fifth African Development Forum. About ADF-V. Accessed November 29, 2010.

9. The African Union. Abuja Call for Accelerated Action Towards Universal Access to HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Services in Africa. Accessed on December 2, 2010.

10. The African Union. Abuja Declaration on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Diseases. Accessed on December 8, 2010.

11. A Compendium of African Union and International Commitments on HIV and AIDS. The Abuja Framework for Action for the Fight against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and other Related Infectious Diseases. 64.

Advocates for youth:


Hope you enjoy reading and making use of the provided information. Feel free to leave your comments or contact me for further assistance.

Best regards,

Joseph M D Johnson

Youth Advocate & African Youth Volunteer – Liberia


+233 244 184181

  1. I would like to be a member of young parliament.and to make africa a peacful going to change africa . Am still 14 yrs old . But am going to change my africa.yes we can

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