Improving Sexual and Reproductive Health for Adolescents

Last Updated - 03 Mar,2017
Comprising one-fifth of India’s population, adolescents are a significant demographic transitioning into adulthood. Adolescents making this transition experience rapid change and heightened vulnerability. The onset of puberty is a period wrought with challenges that impact an adolescent’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Dasra’s report, Body of Knowledge, highlights the challenges that adolescents face, the efforts of key stakeholders and the specific steps implementing organizations are taking on the ground to improve outcomes for adolescents.
Adolescents face a number of challenges during adolescence which are compounded by the heterogeneity of adolescents as a group and the cultural differences across India:
  • Lack of knowledge: One study found only 26% of adolescent girls knew that a condom should be used only once, and only 34% understood that oral contraceptive pills must be taken daily.
  • Lack of agency and decision-making power: 64% of boys and 68% of girls reported that they only met their spouses on their wedding day.
  • Restrictive gender norms: The NFHS–3 reports that 72% of men and 65% of women aged 15-24 years agreed that a woman should obtain her husband’s permission for most things.
  • Prevalence of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy: A research study in Bangladesh found that husbands and mothers-in-law are often the key decision-makers regarding childbearing, sometimes overruling the wishes of a married adolescent girl, and leading to erratic use of contraception. 
  • Restricted access to services and affordable contraception: Only 5% of young girls in rural Gujarat, 8% in rural Uttar Pradesh, and 14% in Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu reported that they could access a health facility alone. 
  • Prevalence of gender violence: The Population Council found that one out of three girls reported sexual violence in their marriage.

Experts and stakeholders have identified four key action areas that are pivotal to enhancing adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health:

  • Innovate on outreach mechanisms to maximize vulnerable adolescents reached: Where traditional channels such as school-based programs hit saturation roadblocks, technology holds the potential to make rapid advances that surpass such roadblocks and reach audiences in significantly larger numbers.
  • Customize programs to address the heterogeneity of the adolescent  population: While the umbrella group called ‘adolescents’ sees programs  aimed mostly at 15-19-year old girls, this group also includes boys and young  men, very young adolescent girls, tribal and disabled adolescents, each of  which has distinct needs that are not best served by blanket solutions.
  • Collaborate and tap existing service delivery platforms: Non-profits working to implement programs must leverage existing platforms for service delivery rather than create parallel delivery systems that duplicate efforts.
  • Include adolescents in program design and implementation: As with any other exercise in communication, knowing your target audience is key to determining how much of your effort they will relate to and decide to absorb.  For instance, adolescents are very well placed to offer perspective on what makes a program most accessible and appealing to young people.
The focus areas are manifested on the ground through the following interventions undertaken by social organizations in the sector:
  • Educating Adolescents on SRHR by providing information that includes body changes, sexual health, gender rights and gender sensitivity and goes beyond awareness generation and addresses adolescents’ concerns and doubts regarding their health and sexuality.
  • Enabling the Delivery of SRHR Education Programs through trained and well-equipped educators who create safe spaces where vulnerable and otherwise inaccessible adolescents can access SRHR information.
  • Peer-Based SRHR Programs for Adolescents to encourage adolescents to not only learn about SRHR but also communicate related needs to trusted peers and mentors, enabling nonprofits to tailor their interventions accordingly.
  • Strengthening Government Systems by using research findings to advocate for better implementation of existing programs as well as to recommend more effective programs, and build the capacity of government workers.
  • Strategic Behavior Change Communication that provides information to affect a positive shift in SRH-related attitudes and corresponding behavior to influence a change in beliefs, practices and norms.
  • Sensitizing Boys and Men on SRHR-related issues and facilitate gender-equitable reproductive and sexual health practices.
  • Facilitating Adolescents’ Access to SRHR Products and Services to meet their SRH needs effectively.
  • Fund high impact organizations that have been identified by Dasra after an assessment of 192 organizations. 
  • Contact one of these organizations to explore opportunities to partner.
  • Share this page with people you know to direct more support to this cause.