WE MUST RECALL that India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which upholds amongst others, the right of every child to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to education, the right to participation and the right to protection from exploitation and abuse, including sexual exploitation and abuse.
HEALTH COMPRISES SEXUAL HEALTH AS WELL. According to the World Health Organization, the overall health of a person is not dependent on the absence of disease or infirmity alone and instead is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. This includes sexual and reproductive health.
WHAT DO STATISTICS SHOW?
According to the National Family Health Survey III, 44.5% of women in India still get married by the age of 18 years (28.1% in urban areas and 52.5% in rural areas).
Further, 16% of the women interviewed within the age of 15–19 years were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the NFHS survey.
According to the HIV Sentinel Surveillance and HIV Estimation, of the 2.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2006, 3.8% were reported to be children (<15years), with the percentage having increased over 5 years.
According to a study in 2007 commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in India, out of a total of 12,447 children, 53.22% reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse that included severe and other forms. (Among them 52.94% were boys and 47.06% girls)
With statistics such as these, it is imperative that young people's sexuality be acknowledged and addressed and they be provided with a supporting environment to talk about sexuality related concerns. Above all, it is important that young people be empowered to make responsible decisions about their own lives.
TARSHI'S HELPLINE EXPERIENCE
43,888 of calls on the TARSHI helpline between February 14, 1996 and October 10, 2007 were analyzed which showed that 42.6% of calls are from people between the ages of 15 and 24 years.
Young callers are curious about sexuality and most times do not have access to accurate and reliable information about their own bodies, sexual and reproductive health issues and relationships.
Calls received from people including young people asking does kissing cause conception" reflect that they lack very basic and important information on sexuality.
WE CALL UPON concerned individuals and organizations to join us in appealing to our political leaders to take action on adhering to the promises made when ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992.
WE URGE our political leaders, the Government of India and especially the Ministry of Human Resource Development, The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and all concerned authorities to affirm young people's rights to information, to the highest attainable standards of health, and ultimately, their right to life itself.
WE DEMAND the urgent revision of the AEP (Adolescent Education Programme) curriculum on sexuality education for all children to be reflective of the "best interests of the child" rather than proscribing narrow notions of morality, culture and tradition. This would be the first step in creating a comprehensive sexuality education that is gender-sensitive, age-specific and free from negative value judgements which is essential to help young people lead lives free of fear, disease and violence; and to enjoy physical and mental health and wellbeing.
WE DEMAND more transparency in the process of developing a curriculum, and the participation of young people in developing the curriculum in accordance with children's right to participate in programmes and policies that directly affect their lives and futures.
WE URGE for a serious show of commitment by the Government by initiating a systematic process involving various stakeholders including professionals, parents, young people and educationists, to develop a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum for children and to include sexuality education training in the curricula for trainee teachers and healthcare professionals including doctors and nurses.
We truly hope we can make this initiative count! Please feel free to share it among your networks, friends, colleagues, press contacts etc because every signature counts!
Warmly, Arpita --
Arpita Das Programme Associate The South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality Hosted by TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues) 11 Mathura Road, 1st Floor Jangpura - B, New Delhi - 110014, India