Gyanendra kumar Rout
The aim of the paper is to give visibility to the adolescent as a crucial segment of the population within policy framework and programmatic efforts existing in India. It provided a review of the status of the policy and programme implementation as well as the role of the UN System. The present document accordingly, has attempted to include analysis of the current situation of the adolescents, the capacity of existing national system to provide interventions, as well as analytic assessment of policy and legal provisions. The strategies for advocacy, capacity building and networking for synergy within and across organizations/agencies can be mounted which would help in evolving workable strategies to translate the provisions of the recent Five Year Plan into concrete actions both at policy and programme implementation levels. It is hoped that the endeavour would contribute towards creating safer and supportive environment for the holistic development of Indian adolescents in the new millennium.
Introduction- In the life cycle of a homosapien organism, adolescence is a period of transition from childhood to adulthood. It is characterized by rapid physical, biological and hormonal changes resulting in to psychosocial, behavioral and sexual maturation between the age of 10-19 years in an individual. Adolescence is often described as a phase of life that begins in biology and ends in society (Sharma 1996). It means that physical and biological changes are universal and take place due to maturation but the psychosocial and behavioral manifestations are determined by the meaning given to these changes within a cultural system. The experience of adolescents during teen years would vary considerably according to the cultural and social values of the network of social identities they grow in. It is pertinent at this juncture to raise the question- Has the period of ‘adolescence’ been recognized universally having the same meaning? In reality, there are markedly different notions of adolescence in different parts of the world. These stand apart from western account of what does or should happen during this transitional period between childhood and adulthood (Brown et al. 2002). The evidence in literature from cross-cultural studies both supports and challenges the hypothesis that adolescence is a difficult period in development. There are cultures where adult status is granted to both boys and girls through initiation rites at puberty, amounting to an abrupt transition from childhood to adolescence and adulthood. But it clearly confers the adult identity on the individual. However, it may be an extended period of transition in other cultures. Socialization process, it is acknowledged plays an important role in how inevitable biological changes are dealt with. There is little reliable date on the relative influence on their lives of peers, family and community. But it is essential that resources are provided to growing youngster through proper policies, programme and counseling and guidance. Documented work related to experience of young people, across the globe, indicates that the forms adolescence takes within culture, let alone across cultures, are diverse and distinctive. Still, one can certainly identify common features related to biological, cognitive and psychological imperatives of human development. Further, with the world becoming a global village through increased communication has led to the emergence of world youth community, resulting in to commonalities in interest of adolescents across cultures such as style of dressing up, eating habits, music preferences and sexual explorations. However, these commonalities get coloured, adapted and transformed to give different meaning within a cultural system.There is therefore, a cautionary note for all those who work with adolescents and youth may it be researchers, practitioners, employers, policy makers and parents not to have a universalistic notion about adolescence. Adolescence needs to be understood in historical and cultural context and its variegated and tentative nature be acknowledged and appreciated (Brown and Larson 2002). It is particularly significant when policies are formulated and interventions are planned for adolescents to ensure their well being with reference to a particular culture/country.
Adolescence: Indian Context- In contemporary India while adolescence is a comparatively new term, the word youth is better known and has been used at the levels of policy formulation and programming (Singh 1997).
However, even the ancient text of Dharamashastra recognized the crucial nature of adolescence and prescribed specific codes of conduct for the phase. These codesare deeply rooted in the Indian psyche and continue to influence cultural practices towards adolescents in a powerful manner (Verma and Saraswathi 2002). To contextualize the cultural milieu, in which adolescents grow in India, the relevant traditional cultural values and themes that shape and affect the environment of adolescents during growing years need to be described. The family universally is acknowledged as an institution of socialisation; however, it plays a major role in the life of an Indian. Despite the fast pace of social change, it continues to have a direct bearing on adolescents’’ development, since most young people stay in family until adulthood or even later in the case of joint family set-up.Most Indian families observe sacred ritualistic ceremonies at various stages of life cycle (Kakar 1979, Saraswathi & Pai 1997). These are markers of progressive attainment of competencies both in social and behavioural aspects of life. The onset of puberty is acknowledged by the family and new code of conduct is prescribed both for boys and girls.
Onset and End of Adolescence- The interplay of biological changes and social attitude will determine the psychological meaning of puberty for its members. The common themes and assumptions, which are relevant in this context, are: The onset of puberty marks the beginning of adolescence. There are individual as well as cultural differences in the length of adolescence and in the age of onset and completion. While the physical changes of pubescence signal the beginning of this phase. Sociological criteria such as achievement of adult status and privileges, marriage, the end of education and the beginning of economic independence frequently mark the termination of adolescence. The stage of adolescence is likely to end earlier in primitive cultures an later in technological ones. (Sharma1996 p 25)
Several studies have indicated that parents rarely provide the desired support to growing adolescents regarding biological and physiological changes as also the meaning attached to these. Youth sexuality stands out as an important aspect which is inadequalely understood; taboos to access information and lack of counseling services make youngsters turn to peers and other sources of information (Abraham & Deshpande 2001). We need to be aware that distorted information has consequences related to exploitation, abuse, mental health problems and risk of HIV/AIDS. Providing awareness services and strengthening capabilities of institutions like family, community and school to act as sources of correct information are thus important and need to be given attention.
Varied Images of Indian Adolescents- Adolescents –include both boys and girls but in Indian context these two have very different experiences during growing years including adolescence, the cultural differences are vast with regard to their conduct and are based on traditional adult roles stereotypes. Growing as a female in India carries with it the connotation of Traditional Indian Texts and Adolesence.
In the traditional texts of the Dharamashastra- which prescribes the code of conduct for each stage of development, a crucial place has been assigned to adolescence in the process of enculturation. The terms Kumara and Brahamchari that refer to the stage of celibacy and apprenticeship/acquisition of knowledge especially describes period of adolescence for young males from upper class (Verma and Sarswathi 2002). There was interestingly no mention of young girls in that text. However, in Rasamangri cited by Randawa (1959), an ancient text authored by Bhanu Datta a young girls has been referred to as sviya (the one who loves only her husband ) and given three titles based on her age and experience. Mugdha (youthful and inexperienced), madhya (the adolescent) and pragalbha (the mature). This classification seems so close to three stages of contemporary Adolescent Psychology (pubescence /early adolescence (10-12 years), puberty/mid adolescence (13-15 years), adolescence/late adolescence (16-19 years). ] inferior status, and lesser privileges-as compared to a male child. It cuts across all social classes of the society and through entire lifespan. For a girl, the onset of puberty implies more restrictions on her movement, fewer interactions with boys and men, and more active participation in household chores. Boys begin to exercise greater freedom to move about, expected to seek educational and vocational pursuits as a priority and to take adult roles. Besides age old gender distinctions, there are many variations in the current images of adolescent’s in India. The variations arise from factors such as urban, rural and tribal residence, ethnicity and socio economic levels of the family. Lifestyle of urban adolescents from upper SES is quite different from that of middleclass and lower-class adolescents. Former have access to private, good quality education and are influenced by western ways of life style through travel and exposure; their preferences for music, clothes and interaction with opposite sex are very close to the western counter parts. On the surface there does not appear to be any gender discrimination in the families of these adolescents but covertly they do exist. Pursuing educational endeavours is encouraged both in upper and middle urban class. Urban Adolescents from lower class have to struggle for survival and grow in impoverished, disadvantaged environment making them vulnerable to several risks. Malnutrition, risk of poor health, becoming victims of antisocial activities, brewing and sale of illicit liquor, sex exploitation, prostitution and drug peddling were reported threats for adolescents from slums in a multi indicator survey (Khosla 1997).The picture of rural adolescents is different; the disparity between boys and girls is even greater among them. Less emphasis on formal education makes boys and girls participate in adult activities at home and outside at an early age. The boys are expected to join men in work to earn their living, may it be on a farm or a factory or a traditional craft at home. The routine of a pre-adolescent/adolescent rural girl is demanding-cleaning the house, cooking, washing, fetching water, bathing younger siblings. Rural girls rarely pursue education beyond primary school level. Early marriage as a trend is common even now, both for boys and girls in rural India. The traditionalism and familialism are evident in various facets of family life, both in rural and urban settings (Bhende 1994; Pathak 1994). Parental involvement and control is high. Emotional interdependence among family members, respect for elders and family solidarity are characteristics of an Indian family. It has implications for social responsibilities of caring for old parents, protecting sisters and providing support to other dependents as a traditional duty, valued within the culture, and these values are emulated by growing male adolescents. Adolescent girls are groomed to become good wives and mothers having sacrifice, tolerance and dependences as an integral part of their disposition. There is also a general acceptance of double standards for males and females in matters related to premarital sex and selection of marriage partners, with considerably more freedom for males (Uplaonkar 1995).
Indian Family in Transition- The rapidly changing social, political and economical scenario in the world has not left Indian family untouched. It is going through structural and functional modifications that have a bearing on adolescent’s socialization and parent child relations. Weakening of social support from kinship, movement of women empowerment, exposure to media, increasing competitive demands of the market economy and higher standards of achievement are a few aspects that have changed the family dynamics in the recent past. The need for differential values, competencies and coping styles between parents and adolescents are a source of anxiety and stress both for adolescents and parents (Verma and Saraswathi 2002).The ambiguity of values that adolescents observe in the adult world, the absence of powerful role models, increasing gaps between aspirations and possible achievements, not surprisingly, lead to alienation and identity diffusion (Sing & Sing 1996). Parents themselves appear ill prepared to cope with social change, having grown up in hierarchically structured and interlinked social and caste groups that provided stability. The conflict between parents’ desire to help their adolescent children cope with the changing demands of their own rootedness in tradition expresses itself in the cold feet syndrome when things go wrong. Parents who apparently seem modern, but if their child breaches established social codes, intergenerational conflicts related to marriage, career choice, or separate living arrangements result in the tendency to fall back on tradition (Saraswathi & Pai 1997) Amidst all this turmoil, while the outward form of family is changing, Indian family has the advantage of its heritage with well defined value system related to social relations and prescriptions of the ideal way of life. Adolescents across all sections of the society thus have a family as an ‘anchor’ that supports them to cope with challenges of transition to adulthood. Family as an institution in India therefore, has a potent role in influencing adolescents. Capacity building of its members to provide timely support and monitoring signs of dangers to save adolescents from slipping into risks can be an important strategy/approach. Involvement of parents has increasingly now been used in planned interventions of governmental and voluntary sectors.
Developmental Needs of Adolescents- Adolescence is marked as a period of growth spurt and maturation, extent of physical growth is not determined by genetic, heredity factors alone but also on availability of adequate nutrition, micronutrients in the diet and access to health services. Inadequate nutrition during adolescence can have serious consequences throughout reproductive years and beyond. Extra nutritional requirements include increased intake of calcium, iron, iodine, minerals and proteins. Unmet nutritional needs lead to several public health problems such as stunted and retarded growth,impaired mental development, anaemia, complications during pregnancy and low birth weight babies.Adolescence is also a stage when young people extend relationships beyond their parents and family. It is a time of intense influence of peers, and the outside world in the society. A desire to experiment and explore can manifest in a range of behaviours-exploring sexual relationships, alcohol, tobacco and other substances abuse. The anxiety and stress associated with achievement failure, lack of confidence etc are likely to lead to depression, anger, violence and other mental health problems. Adolescents as they mature cognitively, the mental functioning process becomes analytic, capable of abstract thinking leading to articulation and independent ideology. These are truly the years of creativity, empathy, idealism and with bountiful spirit of adventure. Thus, if nurtured properly youth can be mobilized to contribute significently to national development.
Overview of Research- Unmet needs during this critical period have serious consequences not for the individual alone but for the family, community, society and nation at large. The relevant empirical evidence in this context reported here has implications both for policy and designing services. The major source of these references is Adolescence in India an annotated bibliography ‘compiled by Verma and Saraswathi (2002).
The data available from the reviewed literature on physical growth, nutritional and health status demonstrate that health scenario of a large proportion of adolescents in India is plagued by undernutrition, anaemia, and infectious diseases resulting from poor environmental sanitation and ignorance. While the consequences of poverty do not spare the adolescent boys, the girls come through as the endangered sex. In the absence of general overall socio-economic development, availability of safe drinking water, environmental sanitation, and better access to public health care, including control of recurrent viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections, nutritional and dietary supplementation are recommended in the review as strategic interventions to reverse the trends.
There is a spate of work in the area of sexuality and reproductive health. Much of this information relates to opinions taken from illiterate, as well as school and college populations. Increase in the sexual activity, incidence of STDs/HIV and clinical abortions among unmarried adolescents are reported (Abramham, 2000). But we are confronted with is a mixed bag of problems related to premarital and marital sex pertaining both to the largely rural and predominantly illiterate group as well as the urban literate population. Matters are further compounded by gender bias, myths and misconceptions associated with sexuality and reproductive health among adolescents combined with reluctance on part of the parents and schools to talk more freely about sex (Awasthi and Pande 1998). Traditional beliefs regarding families role in selection of life partner with preference for arranged marriages among both rural and urban youth, and more conservatism regarding girls’ sexual behaviour and marriage is expressed by both young men and women (Abraham 2000; Uplaonkar 1995; Desai 1993). It is evident that fertility control through stringent implementation of the legal age for marriage, nutrition and sex education, and protection of unmarried adolescent girls, demand urgent attention. Even though there is now a large body of information on sexuality, there is uneven coverage of studies on adolescents out of school as well as on the street related to their sexual practices (Pandey 2000; PANOS 1999).
Adolescence: A Critical Phase
• Raising knowledge and awareness, to recognize adolescence as a time of opportunity and risk.
• Building a concencus to designate 10-19 years as the period of adolescence for policy and programme planning.
• Acknowledging that problems faced by adolescents have common roots and are interrelated.
• Appreciating that all adolescents are not equally vulnerable.
• Recognizing the role of socio cultural and environmental variables on the development and profile of adolescents.
• Accepting that gender differences are fundamental in the Indian context.
• Understanding the crucial role of family in shaping lives of the adolescents.
The priority areas for action are:
• Reduction in levels of poverty as large number of adolescents are raised in impoverished conditions (BPL 26% - 1999)
• Checking adverse sex ratios, ensuring equality for females in all spheres of life across life cycle stages.
• Reduction in fertility.
• Reduction in mortality and morbidity rates of adolescents and women.
• Raising age at marriage, through advocacy, education and enforcement of Child Restraint Marriage Act.
• Reduction in prevalence of malnutrition and micro nutrients deficiencies, particularly anemia amongst girls and women (55%).
• Universalization of literacy, raising levels of education, creating provisions of vocational education and employment. Bridging gender disparities.
• Making Population Education available through school system at all levels and non formal education programmes.
• Improving quality of education for achieving Minimum Levels of Learning.
• Promoting access to health services and counseling services for safe and protected sex to all adolescents.
• Abating violence and sex abuse of girls/boys.
• Controlling trafficking of young girls/children.
• Protecting adolescents in difficult circumstances, law. Provision of appropriate services for these groups need to be expanded.
Policy Framework and Designing of Interventions-Analyses of the existing policies and interventions have pointed to the need of making policies more supportive and interventions more comprehensive. Some of the guiding principles that have emerged from the review are presented here. These may be considered by policy makers and other stake holders in bringing changes in the existing policies and programmes or while formulating new ones to meet the specific needs of the adolescents.
• Adolescents (10-19 years) to be recognized as a priority target group and reflected as such in the national programmes.
• Building of a strong political commitment to ensure wellbeing of adolescents
• Advocacy to promote partnership amongst stakeholders to share this responsibility jointly to synergies the impact of the interventions targeted at adolescents.
• A separate national policy on adolescents may be enacted to address interrelated and holistic needs of adolescents, with multisectoral approach instead of sect oral, catering only to one set of needs at a time.
• There is a need to have a nodal department in the Government to plan, implement, monitor and coordinate endeavours related to adolescents.
• Generating relevant data base / information at the national level relating to adolescents, having uniformity in categorization of age groups (10-15, 16-19). Data sets be disaggregated by sex, rural, urban and tribal groups
to meet their diverse needs.
• To base policies on current knowledge and scientific evidence • Empirical research related to crucial aspects of adolescents should be undertaken to understand the role of conditions/factors influencing development of adolescents in India. The research evidence would facilitate formulation of realistic policies and need based programmes interventions..
• Policies need to be sensitive to the cultural and local traditional values accordingly, flexibility may be a built in for implementation.
• Participation of youth in policy framing can go a along way in making it sensitive to the felt needs. This is a well proven strategy for sustainability of projects.
• Gender dimension s to form an integral part of the policies to deal with age old discrimination. Empowerment of adolescent girls and women be aimed at.
• The rights approach be honoured in policy formulation and provisions should be made in line with Articles of CRC(Convention on the Rights of the Child ), CEDAW(Center for Education and Discrimination Against Women) and ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development)directly relevant to survival, development and participation of adolescents.
Programmes and Interventions
• Increasing access to services and expanding these for universal coverage.
• Integrated Programmes to be designed at the community level with assessment of the felt needs of adolescents and involving them in planning the same. The components of the programmes depending on its objectives may vary from project to project, however, the essential service in the context of adolescents are:
• Counseling and Friendly Clinical Services • Adolescents Health Services
• Reproductive and Sexual Health Education • Formal Education
• Non-Formal Education • Adult Education
• Adolescents Health Education
- Nutrition and Reproductive Health - Psychological and Mental Health
• Vocational Education • Value Education and Life Skills
• Technical Education • Information and Computers Technology.
• Sports and Games • Music and Dance • Arts and Crafts
• Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights are two crucial aspects of interventions for of adolescent due to their age specific needs. These require provision of population education as an integral part of the curricula of the educational system. Inter vention programmes meant for out of school adolescents should essentially include this components. • Special care needs to be taken to respond to the gender differential needs in the interventions (boys/men, girls/women).
• The staff and personnel working for programmes of adolescents be
oriented and trained to respond to the special needs of the age group
with the desired sensitivity.
• System of monitoring needs to be evolved for programmes/interventions to ensure effective and efficient delivery of services Community members may also participate in the process and give periodic feed back.
• Evaluation of Projects/Interventions need to be carried out to learn lessons for improving implementation and impact.
• Documentation of best practices and their dissemination to be encouraged.
• Knowledge related to effective project management be built.
• Alternative service/intervention models be evolved to serve adolescents in different settings.
Legal Frame Work
• Priority action to review existing legislations relevant to adolescents, these may be reorient in line with provisions in the Articles of CRC and CEDAW.
• Strengthening enforcement machinery for speedy redressal of grievances and cases.
• Promoting legal literacy and making adolescents and society aware of their rights and legal entitlements.
• Making legal/legislative system gender sensitive &responsive to adolescents needs.
Conclusion- We must therefore, strive to create an environment where the young can enjoy trusting relationships with their families as well as adults in their community.A world where no young person will grow up neglected, abused or uncared for. A world without violence and misery. Where the young can grow up strong and physically and mentally healthy as confident and balance individuals, working together to promote harmony between peoples and nations. The future looks promising for adolescents and youth. The challenges are there but the potential is far greater. Everyone must work together to harness it for the greater good of all. Such an effort will enable young people to be healthy and creative, and to shoulder the responsibilities demanded of them in 21st century.
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Dr.Gyanendra kumar Rout
Assistant Professor (Education)
Govt. Degree College, Rikhnikhal
Pauri Garhwal, Uttarakhand