I was a participant in the NoToPope protest in Sydney on July 19, and was part of the broad coalition that organised the protest. One of the issues the NoToPope coalition raised as part of the World Youth Day protests was the gap between what the Vatican preaches, (no to condoms and abstinence in sex education) and the reality of sexually transmitted diseases around the world today.
These values the Vatican preaches are out of step with what is really happening to young people, both in the First World — where sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise — and in the Third World — where, thanks to the policies of the Reagan administration in the '80s and now reinstated by the Bush administration today, HIV/AIDS is also on the rise.
According to the 2002 Australian National Survey of Secondary Students, sexual activity among young people had increased, with 26% of Year 10 students and just under 50% of Year 12 students having had sex. Among the 15-16 year olds, 32% of young men reported having sexual partners in the past year, as did 22% of young women.
Since 1981, there have been approximately 25 million deaths worldwide from HIV/AIDS — 2.1 million of these were in 2007. As of the end of 2007, approximately 33.2 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS. US government policy has contributed to these deaths and infections. Access to drugs in the Third World is made difficult through aid organisations being required to pay for more expensive brand-name drugs from US multinational companies rather than cheaper generic drugs. Also, generic drug manufacturers in the Third World are required to pay royalties to the big multinational manufacturers.
In both the First and Third World, education about the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and promotion of preventative measures like condoms have been very effective in preventing the spread of disease and unwanted pregnancies. Both teachers and parents need to be given resources and knowledge to educate young people about the risks of STDs and ways to protect themselves and others from infection.
Governments need to be reminded that sound public policy based on facts and rational planning needs to be implemented, not policy based on conservative religious ideals, which are in fact aiding the spread of STDs and unwanted pregnancies throughout the world.
As the pilgrims of World Youth Day return home, my hope is that — while their religion may preach abstinence as the only option — young people around the world, regardless of their religion, have knowledge of and access to the means to adequately protect themselves from STDs. Practical, not dogmatic, measures are the only way to really address this serious issue that is causing the death of millions.