Young people (10–24 years) comprise 30.7 per cent of India’s population (Census 2001). In fact, 21.9 per cent of the population are adolescents, between 10 to19 years. Being better educated and with better health profiles than earlier generations, they are both a huge asset to the country and also a potential challenge, if not nurtured well. While access to education, exposure to the electronic media, and wider academic and employment choices have provided them with an environment rich in potential and possibilities, these developments have also exposed them to great vulnerabilities. Specific to health, poor information and limited power to make informed sexual and reproductive health choices places them at great risk.
It is critical to reach out to this vulnerable age group. In the short term, they are exposed to health risks. From a long-term perspective, the sexual and reproductive choices and behaviours they adopt would determine the future population and health map of the country.
In the Eighties, working within the framework of integrated maternal and child health (MCH), our initiatives primarily focused on creating awareness by giving key sexual and reproductive health messages to adolescents. Later in the decade,we partnered with All India Radio to produce the first drama series reaching out to adolescents with key reproductive health messages with a programme titled Dehleez. It was aired in 11 languages.
By the late Nineties, we formally adopted and advocated the lifecycle approach to ensure reproductive health. The approach provides for quality healthcare and nutrition services for the newborn and children up to six years; reproductive and sexual healthcare to expectant and lactating mothers and to pre-adolescents and adolescents who are likely to be future parents.
Our work over the last decade -
- We were instrumental in the formation of the India Alliance for Young People: Towards a Healthy Future in 2003-04. The alliance brings together organizations working with youth on a common platform, to share and learn from each other and influence policies and programmes.
- A series of sub-district, district and state level consultations were organized by the alliance in 20 states, leading to a national consultation in mid 2004.Recommendations from these consultations were brought out in two publications and widely disseminated.
- We led civil society inputs for developing Action Plans for the Health section of the National Youth Policy, 2003.
- We provided technical assistance to the Department of Youth Affairs in Bihar and Jharkhand in developing the state Youth Policy and ensured inputs from youth and organizations working with youth at sub-district and district levels.
- In Jharkhand, we assisted in developing the Youth Policy Implementation Plan through regional consultations.
- Young people’s reproductive and sexual health is a cross-cutting theme across all our programmes.
Placing youth in the forefront of national health policies
We play a major advocacy role to place youth issues at the forefront of the national health debate. Therefore, we -
- Focus on building networks and alliances among youth and civil society players.
- Sensitize different stakeholders – bureaucrats, members of the judiciary, legislators and NGOs – on the relevance and need to focus on the reproductive and sexual health of young people.
- Focus on building the capacities of NGOs for effective advocacy and communication initiatives. Track questions on youth issues in Parliament, to create opportunities for legislative advocacy.
- Undertake studies and surveys on the status of family planning and reproductive health to support advocacy efforts and ensure the implementation of rights-based and gender-sensitive reproductive health and family planning programmes for youth.
At the district and sub-district levels, we –
- Support and implement a number of young people’s reproductive and sexual health programmes to create education and awareness among adolescents in partnership with local NGOs. These include life skills education, group counselling sessions, peer education, and empowerment of married and unmarried adolescents.
- Support service delivery initiatives aimed at reducing iron deficiency anaemia and addressing other health concerns of adolescents.