Adolescents’ health concerns to go beyond tokenism

Adolescents’ health concerns to go beyond tokenism

New Delhi: The rapid decline in fertility and demographic transition experienced in most of Asia has been accompanied in several countries by heightened discrimination against girls.

Manifested through prevailing pre-natal sex selection and female feotecide it has created a far more pronounced sex ratio imbalance. Son-preference, combination of traditional methods of neglect of girls and misuse of modern technology, urbanization, rising educational levels and standard of living has only led to an increasing ‘deficit’ of young girls across the region, often so amongst affluent pockets within developing societies.

Public health has to involve the public

According to demographers and health experts, a country’s sex-ratio is a telling indicator of its social well-being. A skewed sex ratio at birth has already resulted in a demographic gap in parts of China and India, which have in turn led to growing violence against women and girls, bride trafficking and early marriages.

Legislation has not helped even in small things like child marriage which continue to thrive, especially in rural India, putting a huge health burden on the family. According to Tarun Seem, Director, National Rural Health Mission, government of India, “ Unless we bring the public back into public health, through community participation, we cannot battle the average mindset, where health is not a priority at the family unit level and where national programmes address only about 25% of all morbidities. States, districts and panchayats have to pitch in, be it to deal with social evils or in ensuring that objectives like health for all are met with."

Addressing health needs of youth and adolescents

Over 700 million adolescents (10-19 years) live in Asia. Not only are their numbers large but they are experiencing rapid changes in attitudes and expectations in a fast-changing world.

Addressing their SRH needs pose a major challenge. The recent debate on the relevance and importance of sex education in schools has thrown the spotlight once again on the wide prevalence of hypocritical attitudes that refuse to recognize the vulnerabilities of the youth.

The integration of family planning, HIV/AIDS and SRH envisioned at ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994) is gradually taking place in the Asia Pacific region despite constraints of funding, organizational barriers, and limited training opportunities for health service providers.

“Exploring New Frontiers in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights" is the theme of the 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSH) scheduled to be held in Hyderabad, from October 29-31, 2007.

The conference will bring together more than 1200 participants including NGOs, government officials, donors, UN representatives, media persons and parliamentarians who will deliberate on:

* Developing new strategies for future research and programming

* Enhancing understanding of the importance of rights-based programmes with special focus on young people and adolescents in the region

* Expanding and empowering SRHR movement, moving beyond tokenism, equalizing sexual relations, responding to emerging issues, addressing unmet needs for SRH services, and making pregnancy safe and wanted through more expanded ‘informed choices’ in services.

The India Consortium on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights includes Mamta Health Institute for Mother and Child and Population Foundation of India, New Delhi, Centre for Health Education, Training and Nutrition Awareness, Ahmedabad, Centre for Operations Research and Training, Baroda, Child In Need Institute, Kolkata, Family Planning Association of India, Indian Society for the Study of Reproduction and Fertility (ISSRF) and the Humsafar Trust, Mumbai.