India has the largest adolescent population in the world, 253 million, and every fifth person is between 10 to 19 years. India stands to benefit socially, politically and economically if this large number of adolescents are safe, healthy, educated and equipped with information and life skills to support the country’s continued development.
Both adolescent girls and boys lack access to information on issues affecting their lives and have limited spaces to develop competencies crucial for active participation. Adolescent girls, especially, are exposed to multiple layers of vulnerability due to pernicious social norms affecting the value of girls, which in turn 7 affects their ability to move freely and to make decisions concerning their work, education, marriage and social relationships.
About 43 per cent of girls drop out before completing secondary education due to household responsibilities, marriage, child labour, limited relevance of education for employment and employability, distance to school and lack of sanitation facilities at the school. Menstruation disrupts the lives of girls in ways that are unimaginable in many countries. At least 42 per cent of girls in India use cloth rather than disposable sanitary napkins. Child marriage, a deeply rooted social norm, provides glaring evidence of widespread gender inequality and discrimination.
Estimates suggest that each year, at least 1.5 million girls under 18 get married in India, which makes it home to the largest number of child brides. Katherine Johnson says, “Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing. Sometimes they have more imagination than men.”
To capacitate and bring out their potential to the full we at Prathyasha studied the situation of our young girls in our operational area. This study helped us to motivate the adolescent girls to form their own small groups in order to create a common platform. We now have 11 Adolescent Girls Groups consisting of 12 to 15 girls in each group. Once a month they come together for meeting and discussion. Every month the animators gives them different topics such as health, child rights, life history of great women of our country for discussion.
We also conducted trainings on sex education, gender inequality, value-based leadership, rights, health and hygiene at Prathyasha. About 80 girls participated and benefited from the trainings. It has motivated and inspired them to concentrate more on their studies and be regular to school. They are also able to identify the issues related to them in the family, school and community. They have now begun to question the existing system that hinders their growth at grass roots level.
We are now planning to reach out to some more villages to motivate adolescent girls to bring under one umbrella and empower them. We are happy that the parents and teachers support and cooperate in our work of empowering the adolescents. They encourage them to participate in all the programs of Prathyasha.
There are a number of volunteers who contribute their energy, time and talents for these young girls. I wish these tiny buds bloom wherever they are planted and bear hundred-fold flowers in the garden of their lives.
Sr. Nancy Lobo