When Anggraini Sariastuti was 17 years old, she received her first marriage proposal.
It wasn’t from her boyfriend – who seven years later is now her husband – but it was from his parents, simply requesting permission of her mum and dad. Many of Anggraini’s neighbours of the same age – and even younger – outside the city of Solo in Central Java had already dropped out of school, were married and even some had one or two children.
“Many parents in my hometown had little or no education and always thought it would be better to marry earlier rather than stay in a longer relationship and risk having an unwanted pregnancy,” explained Anggraini, who married her long-term boyfriend last September. “But even though my husband’s parents persisted for us to marry when we were teenagers, I strongly refused it because I wanted to continue my education to reach my future goals and dreams.”
Anggraini’s decision to stay in school and pursue her education was prompted by a health scare. When she was in senior high school, the 24-year-old discovered that she had an ovarian tumor – something she had never heard about.
“When I was young I never really received the necessary information to look after my health, I was even scared to visit a doctor,” says Anggraini, who went on to complete a Public Health degree at the University of Indonesia. “It was kind of a taboo for unmarried women to receive any medical screening. But it was a big wake-up call for me when I had to have surgery at a young age to remove a tumor from my left ovary.”
These were the personal experiences Anggraini shared with a room of more than 250 young people at the pre-conference for youth at the 2016 International Conference on Family Planning on Sunday. The National Youth Volunteer on Reproductive Health from UNFPA Indonesia was one of only two Indonesian speakers at the event to talk about the health barriers young people face in the country. There are 65 million young people aged 10-24 in Indonesia, the third largest youth population in the world after India and China.
“Comprehensive reproductive health information and access to health services is vital to help empower young people,” she told the room. “We need to work together with parents, families, the government, teachers, educational institutions and health personnel to fully recognize young peoples’ needs for non-judgmental understanding, accurate information, adequate health services and comprehensive education.”
UNFPA Indonesia’s National Program Officer for Youth and Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health, Margaretha Sitanggang, added that "Investing in adolescents and youth and adopting and implementing policies that protect their rights are a priority, to help build them as the pivotal agents for the health and wealth of society”.
The 2016 ICFP runs from 25-28 January in Nusa Dua, Bali.