Adolescent girls face nutritional problems than boys of that age: report

Having more than 243 million adolescents – the highest in the world – the key challenge that India faces is ensuring the nutritional, health and educational needs of this population, particularly girls.

Over the past two decades, rapid economic growth – with real gross domestic product averaging 4.8 per cent between 1990 and 2009 – has lifted millions out of poverty. This, combined with government programmes, had led to improved health and development of the country's youth, who account for almost 20 per cent of the population.

However, many challenges remain for the youthful population, particularly girls. They face gender disparities in education and nutrition, early marriage and discrimination, especially against those belonging to the socially excluded castes and tribes. These are among the barriers of advancing the development and protecting the rights of young people, according to the State of the World's Children 2011 report released by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) here on Friday.

Increased investment in the large adolescent population will help prepare them to be healthy and productive citizens, says the report, “Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity.''

Adolescent girls face nutritional problems than adolescent boys, including anaemia and underweight. Underweight prevalence among adolescent girls aged 15-19 years is 47 per cent, the world's highest. In addition, over half of the girls under this category (56 per cent) are anaemic. This has serious implications, since many young women marry before the age of 20. Being anaemic and underweight increases their risk during pregnancy, the report says.

Anaemia is the main indirect cause of maternal mortality, which stood at 230 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2008. Such nutritional deprivations continue throughout the life cycle and are often passed on to the next generation.

Although the legal age for marriage is 18, the majority of women get married as adolescents. Recent data shows that 30 per cent of the girls aged 15-19 are married or in union, compared to only 5 per cent of boys in the same age. Also, 3 in 5 women aged 20-49 were married as adolescents, compared to 1 in 5 men. There are also considered disparities depending on where the girls live. While the prevalence of child marriage among urban girls is around 29 per cent, it is 56 per cent for their rural counterparts.

On the education front, the report suggests that while India has made significant progress gender parity in primary education enrolment, which stands at 0.96, gender parity in the secondary school education remains low at 0.83.

UNICEF Representative in India Karin Hilshof said the initiation of the SABLA scheme, providing a holistic package of services for adolescent girls, was a huge step forward.

SABLA meant empowerment and an empowered adolescent girl would have the ability to transform not only her own life but of those around her.

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