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Youth and Population

Youth and Population

Why do we need to focus on youth? Doesn't reproductive health start at marriage?
How India's population would grow in the future depends largely on the 189 million-plus people in the 15-24 age group. Meeting their needs for information and guidance regarding sexual and reproductive health behaviour, apart from education and employment opportunities, thus constitutes an important aspect of population and development programmes.

Adolescent sexual and reproductive health programmes enable them to make responsible and informed decisions.
This is particularly important in the case of young women, who should be empowered to exercise their right to greater control over their sexual and reproductive lives, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. Better communication about sexuality, about gender relations, and about the avoidance of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases will improve the quality of life of young people.

The importance of focusing on the adolescent girls and boys is supported by the following:

  • About 25% of girls in the 15-19 age group have their first child before the age of 19 in India

  • Pregnancy before age 18 carries many health risks. Teenagers are more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-24

  • Adolescent mothers will have more children as they are less equipped to negotiate contraceptive use

  • Adolescents account for 14% of abortions in India, according to the International Planned Parenthood Federation

  • Raising the mother's age at first birth from 18 to 23 could reduce population momentum by over 40%, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

  • Those under age 25 account for half of all HIV infections in India, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

Does giving sex education to adolescents encourage sexual promiscuity
No. Contrary to popular belief, sex education does not lead to promiscuity. In fact, such programmes lead to reduction in anxiety associated with unsafe sexual encounters and promote safe sex practices.

In a review by the World Health Organisation of 1,050 scientific articles on sex education programmes, researchers found "no support for the contention that sex education encourages sexual experimentation or increased activity. If any effect is observed, almost without exception, it is in the direction of postponed initiation of sexual intercourse and/or effective use of contraception".

Failure to provide appropriate and timely information "misses the opportunity of reducing the unwanted outcomes of unintended pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases,, and is, therefore, in the disservice of our youth", the report says.

Adolescent reproductive and sexual health programmes should take parents and the community into confidence to build a supportive environment for the adolescents to exercise their choices. In the absence of such an integrated approach, there is a danger of the programme being resisted on misplaced fears of increased promiscuity. There is a need to work with both boys and girls together so that they appreciate the sexual and reproductive processes in both the sexes. This also leads to a proper understanding and exercising of sexual rights.

How does increase in age at marriage affect population stabilization
Marriage is near universal in India. Age at marriage is directly related to the education and employment opportunities available to women, with those better educated and employed marrying later than those who are uneducated and/or unemployed.

The mean age at marriage has increased steadily - from 17 years in the 1960s to 20 years in 1990s. Still, around 43% of women get married before 18 years, which is the legal age of marriage in India for women. One of the reasons for early marriage is also the fear that the girl may lose her virginity, the protection of which is considered as a responsibility of the family and seen as discharged by marriage.

Early marriages often lead to early pregnancies, as most women also conceive immediately because they lack knowledge and access to contraceptive services as well as face family pressure to present an heir within the first year of marriage. On the other hand, the desire to prove his "masculinity" by siring a child prevents a man from using contraceptive methods immediately after marriage. Giving birth to a child is also seen as a means of securing the marriage as there is greater pressure on the man to take responsibility for his wife when she is the mother of his child. Infidelity and desertion are more common when the woman has not had a child. Adolescent pregnancy, within marriage or otherwise, poses a threat to the health and survival of the mother and child. Loss of children makes the couple desire larger families.

At the macro level, early marriages and early child bearing result in faster replacement of generations, impeding population stabilization even when the couples opt for one or two children.

Copyright © 2007 - Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh       
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