Bihar's rural youth: Victims of ignorance

Bihar's rural youth: Victims of ignorance

A recent finding by the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS) and the Population Council suggests that a sizeable number of youths in Bihar, including young women, are engaging in sex before marriage. More worrisome is the fact that most of them, indulging in the act, are either uninformed or ill-informed about pregnancy risks, HIV, safe sex and use of contraceptives.

Equally alarming is the revelation that 15 per cent of the rural youth had opted for pre-marital sex as compared to 10 per cent of the urban men. Throwing more light on the inadequate awareness about the sexual and reproductive matters, the survey report says only 28 per cent of the young men and 15 per cent of women were aware about HIV/AIDS, its transmission and prevention. “We were surprised to find that only 30 per cent of the women knew that a condom can be used only once,” said Dr Faujdar Ram of the IIPS.

The IIPS and the Population Council surveyed 8,136 youths from different parts of Bihar before arriving at the conclusion. “Early marriage still continues in Bihar. Almost half of the young women were married below the age of 15 years,” said Dr K G Santhya of the council.

As a consequence, early marriage is followed by early pregnancy. Nearly 68 per cent of the women had their first pregnancy before they attained the age of 18 years, the legal age for wedding. Just 12 per cent of the young couple admitted that they used contraceptives.

“Young women in Bihar are more vulnerable. They do not know what to expect of marriage and sex, and they experience marital violence,” said Dr Ram, adding that 30 per cent young girls admitted that they had experienced it, while as many men said that they had abused their wives. Sexual relations were described to be a forced one — more than 54 per cent of the young women said they had experienced forced sex within marriage.

The report has suggested the Bihar government to initiate steps to not only postpone marriage but postpone pregnancy among the girls who marry early.

Mental disorder

The survey also noted that the youth in Bihar suffered from mental health problems. Around 16 per cent of young men and nine per cent of young women reported signs of mental disorders. They said they felt they were not playing a useful role; that they were unhappy and depressed before the interview; felt stressed out and lost sleep over worry; felt incapable of making decisions, and so on.

These problems were reported by urban as well as rural youth — married and unmarried both. The study has recommended the government that mental health needs of the youth should be addressed under the ensuing National Mental Health Mission Programme.   

The only area where women scored over men was savings. Though women were at a disadvantage when it came to control over money,  44 per cent young girls reported savings on a regular basis as compared to 20 per cent of the young men.

Level of joblessness

Lamenting that a large proportion of Bihar’s young people miss school due to economic and other social factors, the survey suggests that youth need to be better prepared for employment. “Unemployment rate in Bihar is said to be very high. One in five men and one in four women were unemployed, and higher among the well-educated than the poorly-educated,” said Dr Rajib Acharya of the Population Council.

“We need a lot more investment in ensuring that youth in Bihar can compete with the youth of other states for the scarce jobs that are available…. and that they are qualified, educated, skilled enough to meet the demands of a globalising world,” averred Dr Acharya.