Context: Teen age girls in India face peculiar challenges in life and need separate attention of the government.
Teen age is usually referred to as the age between 13 and 19. Recently, Teen Age Girls (TAG) Report 2018, was released by ‘Nanhi Kali’, a project by the Naandi Foundation, which works with adolescent girls. As per report there are about 80 million teenage girls in India.
Some findings of teen age girls report:
- 1% girls are studying.
- 8% girls are unmarried.
- 70% wish to pursue higher education.
- 4% wish to work towards a specific career.
- 4% girls want to marry only after they are 21 years old.
- 4% are forced to defecate in the open.
- 7% do not have the access to a hygienic menstruation kit.
- Every second teenage girl is anaemic and underweight with a low Body Mass Index. Girls in wealthy households are likely to have normal haemoglobin levels.
- Tripura performed the worst with only 35.5% teenage girls having normal haemoglobin levels, followed by Punjab (40.7%), Gujarat (41.3%) and Telangana (42%). Manipur had the best score at (89.4%).
Problems faced by teen age girls in India:
- Gender discrimination:
- National Family Health Survey1 (NFHS-4) shows that only 41% women have freedom of mobility in India, the Economic Survey highlighted the ‘meta preference’ for sons.
- TAG report found that only 23% teenage girls have access to a mobile phone.
- About 47% women aged between 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18 in India, as per government figures.
- Indian society puts young women on the lowest rung of the social ladder, as patriarchal setup considers girls to be a burden.
- Indian girls experience about one and a half month shorter breastfeeding duration than boys.
- Inadequate physical and mental health:
- Low weight and anemia in teen age girls is a result of inadequate nutrition.
- Government schemes usually focus on calorie intake whereas supply of essential nutrients is insufficient in government rations.
- Pregnant women in rural areas cook family meals but often eat only leftovers, which affects their physical health.
- Inadequate menstrual hygiene awareness leads to infections like urinary tract infection, urogenital, yeast and fungal infections.
- Underfed and overworked women give birth to stunted and malnourished children which causes mental agony in case of child mortality.
- Adolescence related bodily changes: Teen age is a phase of rapid transition of mental and physical growth. Menstruation, for example, often strikes as a phase of trauma for girls who experience intense pain and in some cases hormonal imbalance during this phase.
- Lack of emotional support: Indian society does not promote open deliberations and counseling between parents and girl child on issues like menstruation, feelings of depression and emotional turmoil which characterize teen age. Suicides among adolescents are higher than any other age groups in India.
- Sexual abuse:
- Teen age girls face sexual abuse within homes which leads to severe mental trauma and helplessness.
- Sexual abuse outside homes is a major cause of teen age girl’s school dropouts and hampers girl education.
Considering the multifarious and deep-rooted problems faced by teen age girls in India, there is a need to consider this section as a high risk and high vulnerability lot which demands urgent attention through affirmative action by the government. Some analysts have suggested a separate allocation for teen age girls in the budget which should focus on following aspects:
- Education of girl child: Although female literacy in India is around 65% but it is highly skewed among states. Female education in India is best approached as a half-hearted exercise which lacks long term women empowerment and independence vision.
- Give girls a strong foundation through early childhood development (ECD) programs to remove early childhood disadvantages. These programs include administering better nutrition, stimulation, and basic cognitive skills.
- Income related hindrances to girl education could be reduced through conditional cash transfers. One such program in Yemen has been able to capture 40,000 girls from disadvantaged communities.
- Providing girls with job-relevant skills that employers actually demand, or that they can use in launching their own business. This would also improve female LFPR.
- Health related interventions: Addressing the needs of girls and women throughout their lives i.e. “life cycle approach” should be adopted which includes:
- Exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of an infant’s life, which benefits both mother and child. Breastfeeding for up to two years can also help mothers keep their iron levels up by delaying the return of menstruation.
- During childhood girls should receive appropriate food including supplements of iron and other nutrients like iodine.
- During adolescence girls need access to information and services related to nutrition, reproductive health, family planning, and general health through avenues like schools, workplaces, marriage registration systems, and youth-oriented health programs.
- Teaching girls to use their knowledge of nutrition when preparing and handling food can also improve their health and that of their families.
- Behavioral change and parental support: Government efforts must be directed at parent education and their role in providing the scaffold that a child needs during teen age.
- Parents should engage more with their children who experience identity crisis during adolescence. This would be helpful in managing child’s emotional turmoil and prevent them from developing mal-adaptive attitudes.
- Parental engagement would open a girl to report instances of child abuse within family and also outside homes.
Efforts of the government for teen age girls in India:
- Weekly Iron folic acid supplementation (WIFS): The Programme envisages administration of supervised weekly IFA Supplementation and biannual deworming tablets to approximately 13 crore rural and urban adolescents through Government aided and municipal school and anganwadi Kendra to combat the intergenerational cycle of anemia.
- Menstrual hygiene scheme: The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) has introduced a scheme for promotion of menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls in the age group of 10-19 year in rural areas by providing sanitary napkin packs.
- Kishori Shakti Yojna: Under this, unmarried and school drop outs of the BPL families are selected and in the local Anganwadi centers, they are included in the teaching and training activities for 6 months. The purpose of this scheme is to provide confidence and to increase the spirit of enthusiasm and self-esteem of teen age girls between 11 and 19 years.
- Balika Samridhi Yojana: The scheme’s aims at changing the negative attitude of families and communities towards the girl child, to increase enrolment and retention of girls in schools, to raise the marriage age of girls and to create income opportunities and activities. A series of incentives are incorporated into the Yojana, such as a gift of Rs. 500/- on delivery of a baby girl and the condition of an annual scholarship for the girl child education.
- Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (SABLA): The scheme Sabla aims at empowering Adolescent Girls (AGs) (11-18 years) through nutrition, health care and life skills education. Girls are provided Supplementary Nutrition and health check-up & referral services, nutrition & health education, life skill education.