By Lata Jha:
We just celebrated World Population Day as an overcrowded planet of some 7.1 billion people. And considering that an ever growing number of teenagers are now giving birth, the U.N. has decided that the focus of this World Population Day will be adolescent pregnancy. At present, India is home to the largest concentration of young people in the world. With an average age of just 29, the country is home to 300 million people below the age of 25.
It is for these reasons that sexual and reproductive rights in India demand analyses. Talking about sex may be taboo here, but reproduction evidently is not. From racing against the age stopwatch in bedrooms, to nine year olds distributing porn to umpteen unwanted pregnancies and sexual infections, the issues are many.
In a strange dichotomy, there are barely any resources for young people curious about sex. From our schools to colleges to our own homes and social circles, we hardly ever find the opportunity to discuss these issues. Only 15% of men and women between the ages of 15 and 24 have reported receiving any sex education, according to a study on Indian youth a few years ago. Alarmingly, only 45% of young women and 37% of young men were aware of the possibility of pregnancy resulting from first intercourse.
The Indian government has dithered over the matter for more than two decades. From wavering over the launch of the Adolescent Education Program (AEP), in 1999 to some of the largest states of the country, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Kerala, Chhattisgarh and Goa actually banning sex education in 2007, we haven’t done too well. But, of course, as countless academic studies have found regressive education does not change teenage and adolescent sexual behaviour, nor does it delay the age of initiation of sexual activity.
Looking ahead, experts say there are two possibilities for India. One is the establishment of a sex-education program that “acknowledges the changing sexual landscape, parents accept that their children must know about safe sex, even if they are unwilling to communicate with their children and supplies and information are available to young people. The second option is maintaining the status quo. Rates of infection will jump and unintended pregnancies will rise.
It’s not like the situation hasn’t eased in recent years. But we still have a very long way to go. In making sex education a part of the lives and curricula of our children as soon as they’re ready for it. In making them feel responsible for themselves and their decisions. Until we do so, we shall carry not only these shameful tags but also the onus of somewhere ruining the lives of our children.