ARE WE FAILING OUR YOUNG PEOPLE?
Almost one-third (30%) of India’s population (365 million in 2011) comprises young people aged 10–24. Whether India realizes the advantage of its demographic dividend, whether it achieves the Sustainable Development Goals, and whether it achieves its national aspirations for development all depend on investments made in the health, education, and skilling of this cohort.
Fortunately, there exist in India a number of laws, policies and programmes that demonstrate the nation’s commitment to improving the situation of young people, and the exercise of rights. Advances have indeed been made – for example, secondary school completion has increased, child marriage has declined steeply and adolescent pregnancy has fallen. Yet there is a long way to go.
Secondary school completion and access to skilling elude many and learning outcomes are compromised. Over one-quarter of young women continues to marry in childhood. Increasing proportions of young people initiate sexual relations in adolescence, almost always unsafe, often uninformed about protective behaviours, and for some, unwanted.
Gender based violence is experienced by too many, further eroding the health of adolescents and young women. The COVID-19 pandemic risks reversing many of the gains made over this century, and stalling improvement in others.
This presentation aims to outline the situation of adolescents and youth in India. It will (a) present available evidence on their education, skilling and work, key health issues, including mental health, sexual and reproductive behaviours and child marriage, as well as their agency and ability to exercise choice; (b) bring together what we know thus far about how this situation will be affected as a result of COVID-19; and (c) offer some promising evidence-based leads for programme investment.
Dr Shireen Jejeebhoy, Social Scientist, Demogragher
Shireen Jejeebhoy, PhD, is a demographer and social scientist with over 35 years of research and evaluation experience in the areas of young people’s health and development, women’s empowerment, gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health.
She has made significant research contributions on adolescent health and development, the empowerment of women and girls, and women’s access to safe abortion and played a key role in India’s first sub-national study of the situation and needs of youth, building evidence on violence against women and girls and documenting the compromised sexual and reproductive health situation in India.
Shireen is the founder and director of Aksha Centre for Equity and Wellbeing, a non-profit organisation dedicated to enhancing the evidence and evaluating promising practices in her research areas.
She is the Vice President of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, and a member of the Governing Boards of Plan India, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the International Institute for Population Sciences and the Population Foundation of India. Previously, she served as Senior Associate, Population Council, India and Scientist, Reproductive Health and Research Department, World Health Organisation, Geneva.