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Adolescents Need to Know

Young People and HIV

Voices of Youth



The Right to Know Initiative

Each day over 6,000 adolescents are infected with HIV daily. Many have no access to accurate information, life skills or even health services. UNICEF and its partners are striving to ensure that young people know their rights and proclaim their right to know the facts on HIV and AIDS.

What Young People don't know can kill them.

Q: Name one way to protect yourself from HIV.

A: In Mozambique, where HIV prevalence is as high as 13%,74% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 were unable to name a single way to protect themselves from the infection.

Q: Can a healthy looking person have the AIDS virus ?

A: In 15 of 34 countries surveyed , 50% or more of girls aged 15 to 19 did not know that someone who looks healthy can be infected with HIV and transmit to others.

Q: How is AIDS transmitted ?

A: In Cambodia, approximately one half of urban young people surveyed,aged11 to 20, thought HIV could be transmittted by coughing ,sneezing and mosquitoes.

Information, education, and communication programmes to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections are often not available to young people. Health services often do not cater to unaccompanied minors or are restricted to married adults. When health services are available, many factors discourage young people from using them. These factors include a lack of privacy and confidentiality, insensitive staff, threatening environments, and an inability to afford services.

Young people have the right to knowledge and skills that reduce their vulnerability and enable protection against the epidemic. To reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS, continuing efforts to educate young people and strengthen their lifeskills are essential. Because the number of HIV infections is increasing most rapidly among 15 to 24 year-olds, interventions are needed for this age group.

Enabling young people to protect themselves is the first steps in controlling the epidemic. This is where the Right to Know Initative strives to make a difference. Young people themselves are the drive behind the Right to Know Initiative. The Right to Know (RTK) provides young people the skills and information that enable them to actively formulate, plan their own HIV/AIDS programmes, and prevention messages, allowing RTK to differ from other initiatives. The young people also build new skills that enable to them to share their knowledge with their peers.

At recent RTK events in Jamaica, Former Republic of Yugoslavia, Ghana, and Zambia, young people worked as partners and learned to use new tools to draw their community to the initiative. Using multi-media technology, they captured the views of their peers and various community. Their participation has allowed them to develop their communication, research and other technical skills in the process, and send the positive messages of their right to know to their peers.

10 Fundamental facts that young people have the right to know


AIDS is an incurable but preventable disease. HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, spreads through unprotected sex (intercourse without a condom), transfusions of unscreened blood, contaminated needles and syringes (most often those used for injecting drugs), and from an infected woman to her child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.


All people, including children, are at risk for HIV/AIDS. Everyone needs information and education about the disease and access to condoms to reduce this risk.


Anyone who suspects that he or she might be infected with HIV should contact a health worker or an HIV/AIDS centre to receive confidential counselling and testing.


The risk of getting HIV through sex can be reduced if people don't have sex, if they reduce the number of sex partners, if uninfected partners have sex only with each other, or if people have safer sex sex without penetration or while using a condom. Correct and consistent use of condoms can save lives by preventing the spread of HIV.


Girls are especially vulnerable to HIV infection and need support to protect themselves and be protected against unwanted and unsafe sex.


Parents and teachers can help young people protect themselves from HIV/AIDS by talking with them about how to avoid getting and spreading the disease, including the correct and consistent use of male or female condoms.


HIV infection can be passed from a mother to her child during pregnancy or childbirth or through breastfeeding. Pregnant women or new mothers who are infected with HIV, or suspect that they are infected, should consult a qualified health worker to seek testing and counselling.


HIV can be spread by unsterilized needles or syringes, most often those used for injecting drugs. Used razor blades, knives or tools that cut or pierce the skin also carry some risk of spreading HIV.


People who have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) are at greater risk of getting HIV and of spreading HIV to others. People with STIs should seek prompt treatment and avoid sexual intercourse or practice safer sex (non-penetrative sex or sex using a condom).


Discriminating against people who are infected with HIV/AIDS or anyone thought to be at risk of infection violates individual human rights and endangers public health. Everyone infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS deserves compassion and support.