Half of adolescent girls in India unhealthy

Last Updated: Apr 28, 2012, 17:27 PM IST

Ankita Chakrabarty/ ZRG

India’s demographic dividend might get negated with about half of adolescent girls reported unhealthy.
According to the UNICEF Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012, 47 per cent of adolescent girls aged 15–19 in India were underweight with a body mass index of less than the prescribed level of 18.5.

The South Asian region as a whole fared badly on the body mass index level with Bangladesh and Nepal having 35 per cent and 26 per cent underweight adolescent girls respectively.

The global report listed India as a prime destination for adolescent girls to bear children. It found out that 22 percent of women aged 20-24 years gave birth before the age of 18 in India.

The UNICEF report said India, Bangladesh, and Niger accounted for one in every three of the world’s adolescent births. Forty percent of women in Bangladesh conceived before the age of 18 years followed by Nepal at 23 percent and Pakistan at 10 percent respectively.

Highlighting the causes, Dr. Meenakshi Banerjee, consultant gynecology at Max Hospital, Saket said, “Poverty and lack of proper education are the main reasons behind such situation. Some communities in India still go for early marriages which results in early pregnancy.” This, she added, resulted in further worsening of the health of the adolescents.

Globally, each year around 16 million girls aged 15–19 gave birth, accounting for around 11 per cent of all births. Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa had the highest proportion of adolescent births. In both these regions, around one in five babies was born to an adolescent mother.

On sexual behavior among adolescents, UNICEF found that girls were more likely than boys to have sex before age 15. Eight percent of adolescent girls in South Asia had sex before the age of 15. In India, eight percent of adolescent girls had sex before age 15 and three percent of adolescent males had sex before age 15. The South Asian average too was around the same lines. The highest overall rate for sex under age 15 is 17 percent among Latin Americans and the Caribbean.

Brazil observed 33 percent adolescent girls to have experienced sex under the age of 15 and Haiti observed 42 percent adolescent boys to have experienced sex under the age of 15.

On violence against women as wives, the UNICEF report found out that 57 percent of adolescent males in India supported wife beating while 53 percent of female adolescents too supported wife beating.

Expressing deep concern over the issue, Kulsoom Rashid, project associate at Jagori, a woman centric NGO said, “The patriarchal system also does not allow girls to revolt and resist.”