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India at the cusp of harvesting youth power: Poonam Muttreja

Jul 13, 2016

India is all set to reap rich dividends with its adolescent and youth population, writes from Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, The Population Foundation of India.

Poonam Muttreja

New Delhi: India is set to become the world’s most populous country in the next decade. Women constitute 48 per cent of India’s population, though in most societies where anti-female biases are less, women outnumber men.

Close to half the women are in the reproductive age group. Similarly, girls constitute 47 per cent of India’s adolescent population (10-19 years) of around 250 million and 48 per cent of the 232 million young people in the age group of 15-24 years (Census 2011).

India is at a critical juncture, where it has an extraordinary opportunity to channelize the potential of her 300 million young people to catapult the country into a new trajectory of development. The sheer size of adolescent and youth population reflects the wealth of young human resource available in the country.

The Government of India's commitment to empowering adolescents, ending child marriage and promoting spacing methods of family planning holds the key to capitalising on the country's demographic advantage.

Chalking out a strategy to plan for creating suitable opportunities as well as avenues to meet their needs and aspirations, especially for girls and young women, must be a priority for the country. Investments in adolescent and young girls, especially teenage girls to influence their health outcome and consequently the overall wellbeing are an absolute necessity. This can be ensured by focusing on women’s empowerment and a right’s based approach to reproductive health to address the special and unmet needs of women and adolescent girls. The government, civil society organisations and other stakeholders need to be able to make a tangible difference to improve the lives of girls.

Reproductive choice and access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights are fundamental human rights. They empower girls and women, freeing them from incessant cycles of pregnancy, breastfeeding and childcare. In India, the challenges girls face begins even before they are born. Skewed child sex ratio (0-6 years), marriage at an early age, denial of access to education and morbidity from multiple child births as a consequence of poor access to family planning are only a few.

According to recently released National Family Health Survey – NFHS 4 (2016), social indicators, such as age at marriage, sex ratio at birth, child registration have improved over the last 10 years. However, few states need to make extra efforts in order to come at par with the national average. The percentage of women aged 20-24 years married before the age of 18 years, remain high for Bihar (39%), Madhya Pradesh (30%) and West Bengal (41%). Bihar and Andhra Pradesh have approximately 12% of women (age 15-19 years) who were already mothers or pregnant at the time of survey. Anaemia among women aged 15-49 years remain high for Bihar (60%), Haryana (63%), Tamil Nadu (55%), West Bengal (62% and Madhya Pradesh (52%).

Despite improvement in social indicators and improved quality of family planning services, the use of family planning methods has declined in empowered action group (EAG) states like Bihar (use of modern

methods declined from 29% in NFHS 3 to 23% in NFHS 4) and Madhya Pradesh (use of modern methods 53% in NFHS 3 to 49% in NFHS 4). The unmet need for family planning continues to be high in these states. This is a matter of concern, as India’s commitment to FP2020i goals largely depend on the efforts of states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

On the occasion of World Population Day, we urge our elected representatives, government agencies and all stakeholders to commit to improving quality of care and providing a wider basket of spacing methods to the youth; to increase financial investments; and accord a higher place in government priorities towards addressing the unmet needs of the country’s vast adolescent population. Working with young people is critical as India looks ahead to reposition family planning and make the most of the demographic advantage that it enjoys, of having a young population.

The need for effective family planning has never been greater than it is today, as the largest group of people in Indian history move through their reproductive years. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for sustained prioritisation of rights as opposed to target based goals.

The Population Foundation of India (PFI), along with all 170 members of the Advocating Reproductive Choices coalition will continue to work towards ensuring universal access to quality family planning services and the provision of a wider basket of choice for all women and men with focus on youth friendly spacing methods.

We stand committed to extend all support to the Government of India, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (JSK) and other key agencies in the pursuit of rights-based goals for family planning and population stabilization.

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