Renewed Focus On Adolescent Health is the Need of the Hour: Experts

Population Foundation of India organises special workshop in Jaipur with a focus on adolescent health

-P.Srinivasan / [email protected]

In many parts of Rajasthan, family members force adolescent boys (10-19 years) to go out and earn to support the family.

The adolescent boys aged 14-16 years are forced by their parents and relatives to earn money, said Om Prakastha, programme manager of Jatan Sansthan, an NGO in Udaipur. He said The NGO did a study in 2014-15 in Railmagra block in Rajsamand district and Sahara block in Bhilwara district. The study was done on 3500 families of which adolescent boys of 41% families had gone out to earn money.

The boys are taken by contractors to Indore and Ratlam for making namkin and to many parts of India to make and sell ice cream. Prakash said there are few brands of ice cream famous in Mewar area such as Barkha Devi, Sanwaria, Bhairunath, Mewar Prem etc, which sell in many parts of the India.

The programme manager of Jatan Sansthan said these young boys leave their studies and go out to do jobs. Working for long hours, they develop backache and other problems, while those into making ice cream, their fingers of hands and legs decay.

Prakash added that when these young boys go out of their village to other place, their family members get them married, so that these adolescent boys develop the sense of responsibility. These boys are told that they are now married so they should focus on earning and not think of any other woman.

Similarly, in Dungarpur district, tribal adolescent girls (10-19 years) go out to earn, while tribal boy study. Prakash said that the tribal boys now know that they get reservation so they study to become teachers. The girls aged 14-18 go to Gujarat for plucking cotton or to work at construction sites. The language is a big problem for them and they often are sexually exploited and misbehaved.  Most of these girls suffer from sexually transmitted diseases and due lack of maintaining hygiene during menstruation, they suffer from reproductive tract infection. These girls have small aspirations, when they see other girls wearing jeans or sandals or having phone after coming from these jobs, these girls too yearn to go out and earn. They are ready to bear the physical and sexual exploitation, just for these petty aspirations, he added.

Speaking at a special workshop organised on November 8 by the Population Foundation of India in Jaipur, Prakash said time has come to investment on these adolescents (10-19 years).

He said these adolescent boys are counselled to study till class XII, carry their ID cards with them, stay connected to their families and take care of their health. Similarly, girls are also counselled through accredited social health activists (ASHAs).

Prakash said to make people aware about comprehensive health education there is need to inform them in people’s language. Sharing his experience of working in south Rajasthan he said that adolescents are lacking right information about adolescent and reproductive sexual health. Taboos attached with reproductive health, absence of supportive infrastructure and lack of the knowledge about products of management are challenges to be addressed.

For a state where every fourth person is between the age group 10-19 years, the 1.57 crore adolescents of Rajasthan represent a huge opportunity for the state to transform its social and economic profile. But experts insist this is possible only if substantial investment is made to improve the health of this young demographic.

Dr Amita Kashyap, Head of preventive and social medicine (PSM), Sawai Man Singh (SMS) Medical College said, that with the advent of technology adolescents have got access to the content which was earlier not easily available for them. Emphasising on the need of comprehensive health education Dr Kashyap said, “Easy availability of content on internet to satiate their curiosity puts adolescents at increased risk. So it increases responsibility of service providers to provide bigger vision and accurate knowledge. For this, we have to go to the people within the community and media can play a crucially productive role in providing healthy, safe and productive life to adolescents through responsible reporting.”

Dr Kashyap’s concerns are valid given that the Centre’s key initiative – adolescents who are 23% of state population have different needs than young people or children. This is the transition phase for adolescents between childhood and adultdhood. More than one-third of all girls in the state are married before they turn 18. Prevalence of anaemia among adolescent girls is as high as 49% compared to 22% of adolescent boys.

Government is implementing Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) in ten 10 focus districts of Rajasthan and plans to strengthen it in other districts as well. There are several other initiatives taken by government to strengthen the counselling services for adolescents, this includes convergence with other departments to maximize reach.

Nikita Srivastav, Senior State Program Manager, Population Foundation of India (PFI) Rajasthan office said, “In order to take this issue forward it is important that media ensure active ownership for the issue in the state, so that the efforts of organizations like PFI reaches the masses and an enabling environment is created for the issue.”

Population Foundation of India has already held eight youth-led consultations across the country to identify and put forward challenges and recommendations to improve adolescent health. Apart from Rajasthan, PFI has been working in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to increase awareness of adolescent health programmes and expand health services especially for the vulnerable.

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