Radhika Urang is a student of class 8 who studies in a middle school run by a tea estate in collaboration with an NGO.
She wants to be a nurse and work for the betterment of society and promoting their health. She herself is facing various social stigma related to race, health and hygiene since she was a child. On giving us a brief tour around her school, we witnessed three toilets. One was unlocked while the other two bore locks. When asked about the same, an employee who was drunk and claimed to be a teacher said, “See, when a guy has to go, he will take the key and go. When a girl has to go, she will take the key and go.”
Even when they menstruate, adolescent girls have to use the same washrooms that boys use. According to Dr. Shantanu Mukherjee, “This can make them more vulnerable to RTI (Reproductive Tract Infection).”
Even if they wish to say something they can’t, because such issues are still clouded by taboos and socio-cultural restrictions. Not only girls, but boys also need to be taught about menstrual hygiene and puberty education because they too have sisters and mothers.
As narrated by Sohini Das, a social worker from Jorhat in Assam, “A girl need not be educated because she is not considered as an asset to the family. After her primary education she is forced to marry a boy who himself is a teenager. Early marriage and early pregnancy may lead to increased chances of sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, etc.”
In addition to this, Dr. J.C. Dey, a gynaecologist stated, “Teenage mothers have high risk of depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum hemorrhage.”
Due to the high salt intake by those who work in tea estates, teenage mothers face high risk of pre-eclampsia. Teenage mothers often give birth to low birth weight babies (LBW) or many a times premature labour leads to the death of neonates and the mother as well.
Teenage boys may fantasize and want to have sexual encounters even without the ample knowledge of sex and puberty, but the fulfilling of this desire may adversely affect the mental health of the girl. Even if it is without her consent, millions of underage girls are pressured to have babies for the purpose of procreation.
Girls face barriers to education because of poverty, cultural norms, discrimination and orthodox beliefs. Various community health programmes are organized by NGOs ensuring better health and hygiene practices.
One such initiative was taken by Jeevan Saathi who took up the community health programme on mental health. This has been a boon to many teenage girls who are facing challenges within their own little worlds.
(Sumantra Mukherjee is a National Media Fellow, and this article is a part of his work which is supported by National Foundation for India.)