On National Youth Day this Sunday, a new report titled ‘The Situation of Adolescents in Jharkhand’ identified that child marriage and teenage pregnancy continue to be the two key challenges for unlocking the potential of the young population in Jharkhand.
10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative conducted a survey of 15,963 adolescents and youth (10-21 age group) across Jharkhand to study growth areas of their lives including education, sexual and reproductive rights (SRHR) employability, media access and early marriage. The survey was conducted across 41393 households in 325 villages and urban wards of Jharkhand.
Shailja Mehta, Associate Director, Dasra, said, “In NITI Aayog’s SDG India Index 2019, Jharkhand is in the aspirant state category which needs to accelerate their performance towards SDGs. Rapid progress on SDGs can be achieved by nurturing young population to their fullest potential. The ‘The Situation of Adolescents in Jharkhand’ report recommends that the government and non-profit organizations need to focus on better implementation of the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) in the area of health, the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan in the area of education, the National Skill Development Mission and Tejaswini programs in the area of skilling and employability, and, the SAG programme, the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, and the community based activities of the RKSK in the areas of empowerment and building leadership.”
High prevalence of child marriage and teenage pregnancy
The report shows high prevalence of child marriage in Jharkhand where 4% of girls aged 15-21 were married before the age of 15, and one third (33%) of those aged 18-21 were married before the age of 18 confirming the findings of National Family Health Survey (NFHS) -4 .
The data also suggests that early marriage is resulting in early child birth. While hardly any (<1%) of the girls aged 15-21 had given birth before the age of 15, as many as 12 % of girls aged 18-21 had given birth in childhood (below the age of 18), and almost two in five (39%) of those aged 20-21 had given birth in adolescence (below the age of 20).
Lack of awareness of contraceptives and health matters is making adolescent girls more vulnerable to Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and teenage pregnancy.
According to the report, 61% of boys, 52% of married girls and 19% of unmarried had in-depth knowledge of one of the four methods of contraception is both suitable for adolescents and relatively accessible, that is oral pills, emergency contraception, condoms and Intrauterine device (IUDs).
Knowledge that a woman can become pregnant at first sex was far from universal even among married girls; just 8-11 percent of younger boys and girls, 27-28 percent of older boys and unmarried girls, and just half (52%) of married girls reported awareness.
Despite presence of a vast network of frontline Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAS) and Anganwadi Workers (AWWs), only 7-14% of boys, 22-26% of younger girls and unmarried girls aged 15-21 had received any health-related information, counselling, referrals, supplies or services from AWWs or ASHAs during the year preceding the interview.
Impact of child marriage on education outcomes
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009 has made primary education free and compulsory. However, the ‘The Situation of Adolescents in Jharkhand’ report shows that many girls especially married girls discontinued their education prematurely.
While the school enrollment has reached 96-99% among all unmarried adolescents in the state, around 12% married adolescents are not enrolled in the school. Around 93-94% younger adolescents were enrolled in the school when the survey was taken but far fewer 15-21 old boys and unmarried girls were pursuing their education (64%).
The data reconfirms that girls who do not enter the schooling system or drop out prematurely are at greater risk than others of early marriage. When the survey asked married girls (15-21 age group) reasons for irregular attendance, 60% of them said it was due to household work and 12% of them cited marriage and pregnancy as reasons.
“Adolescents face different vulnerabilities with respect to region, geographic location, exposure and traditional customs. The outcomes of will ‘The Situation of Adolescents in Jharkhand’ report give directions to explore the possibilities to create a safety net around them which will help to promote their agency and self-efficacy. The study also helps to understand the benefits of different schemes implemented by the Government so far,” said Dr. Indrani Bhattacharyya, Child in Need Institute (CINI), an organization part of 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative.
Importance of improving the expression of adolescent agency
All study findings point towards a need for empowering adolescents to make decisions related to their lives, education, marriage, health and mobility. The report findings show 27% of married girls were not involved in marriage-related decisions and 56% were asked by parents and consented.
Limited agency of adolescents and considerable gender disparities in almost all dimensions of adolescents’ agency was also observed in the findings. 35% and 91% percent of younger and older boys, respectively, had freedom to visit at least three of the four locations unescorted about which we probed, compared with 11% of younger girls, and 28-33% of older girls.