Adolescent health is an area which if addressed compassionately in a mission mode can advance the overall health and wealth of a nation, said Dr Amita Kashyap, senior professor, preventive and social medicine, Sawai Man Singh Medical College, Jaipur. She said that over the last few years it was witnessed how government bodies and social organizations have been working in tandem to spread awareness and create a dialogue around adolescent health. In 2020, legislators, bureaucrats and academicians in the state took part in the social media campaign – ‘Zero Teenage Pregnancy’. This kind of handholding adds a much-needed impetus to problem-solving, she added.
Population Foundation of India is among the organizations that have been working on the ground to improve adolescent health and wellbeing. Divya Santhanam, Senior State Program Manager at Population Foundation of India, said, “Our grassroots campaigns across rural areas have been supported by the government. We collaborate with key stakeholders on the need and means to promote adolescent reproductive and sexual health (ARSH) in Rajasthan. Earlier this year on National Youth Day (12 January), Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot praised civil society organizations for their role in supporting youth in the state.”
This work is particularly relevant because as per Census 2011, Rajasthan’s adolescent population is currently pegged at 23% of the total population of 6.86 crores. “It is truly reassuring that the government has been focusing their efforts towards improving adolescent health and thinks of it as a critical driver of socio-economic development in the state. The government has been acknowledging our work to create an enabling environment for improved ARSH services that will go a long way in empowering the youth,” Santhanam added.
Recently Health Minister Dr Raghu Sharma signed a pledge to protect and promote adolescents, along with Mamata Bhupesh, Women and Child Development Minister, and five other elected representatives, including Harish Meena (Deoli-Uniara), Rohit Bohra (Rajakhera, Dholpur), Krishna Poonia (Sadulpur Churu), Anita Bhadel (Ajmer South) and Ramniwas Gawariya (Parbatsar Nagaur).
Dr. Shobhita Rajagopal, Professor, Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur, said, “Especially during this pandemic, the adolescent issues must not be neglected and must receive a greater investment of resources so that the youth can have unhindered access to health information and services. Rajasthan must work towards becoming a state where adolescents and youth are healthy and equipped to contribute to the state’s development.”
“The state government’s effort to keep girls in schools for a longer period will have an enormous impact on the health and wellbeing of the youth because this will prevent early marriage and increase the interval between marriage and the first pregnancy which have been adversely impacted by the pandemic. I am glad that we are working together to empower girls and young women to make informed choices and enhance their capabilities. Our diverse communication strategies are also addressing regressive social norms and that is a big step forward,” said Santhanam.
It is to be mentioned that the Rajasthan government has played a proactive role in safeguarding and empowering adolescents in the state and leading the charge in promoting girl children. But while programs such as the Mukhyamantri Rajshree Yojana aim to improve indicators such as maternal mortality, infant mortality and child sex ratio, experts say the need of the hour is for the state to continue building on its existing achievements.
Rajasthan is the only state with a policy for girl children, and the state has spearheaded several campaigns to bring issues related to its adolescent population to the forefront. The state’s effective implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT), 1994, has also proved its commitment to promoting adolescent wellbeing. However, much is still at stake, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns and school closures have taken an enormous toll on teenagers, the experts added.