Counselling, social security measures may improve lives of adolescent mothers

Odisha’s Subarnapur district’s ‘Sanjivanee – the new life’ scheme is a slice of relief as it ensures social security to these mothers

By Ghasiram Panda
Published: Thursday 08 December 2022
Adolescent mothers and pregnant girls need critical support to resume their education. photo: iStock.

Adolescent pregnancy is becoming a major concern in Odisha as it is capable of eroding the signs of progress made by the state in preventing child marriages.

Some 24,355 adolescent girls were reported pregnant in the state during 2021-2022. Nearly eight per cent of women aged 15-19 years were reported pregnant during the fourth and fifth editions of the National Family Health Survey.

This trend is not limited to Odisha but is a global threat, prevalent in many low- and middle-income countries. Adolescent pregnancy is not an isolated problem, as it has a serious economic impact as well.

Also read: Time and support are the essence in preventing child marriages

Teenage pregnancies cause India a whopping $7.7 billion in a year, according to the United Nations. Still, the government is apathetic about the issue. There are many policy bottlenecks to rendering services for the betterment of impacted girls.

At this juncture, some isolated efforts to ensure the social security of adolescents are a slice of relief.

Odisha’s Subarnapur district administration has recently launched a new programme to stop teenage pregnancy and to ensure adolescent girls a better life through counselling. 

Three different counselling teams are constituted under the scheme ‘Sanjivanee – the new life’.

The first team consists of — a medical officer, a gynaecologist and a counsellor. The team helps create awareness of sexual and reproductive health, including youth-friendly contraception and safe abortion. 

The second team deals with psychosocial factors and legal aid. This team consists of — the district social welfare officer, district education officer, the district coordinator of action aid, counsellors and legal officers from One Stop Centre and the District Child Protection Unit.

Also read: Making Odisha child-marriage free — an optimistic view

The counselling provided by them aims to analyse stress and gender-based domestic violence. It also provides adequate guidance to the survivors. The team briefs about implementing policies in schools and ensures bringing the survivors back to school.

They also provide information on scholarships and help the girls balance caregiving with education by ensuring flexible school timing and childcare facilities at schools.

The third team deals with livelihood and social security. This team consists of — the district child protection officer, the district project manager of the livelihood mission, district project coordinator of the women’s self-help group programme.

The team explores the scope to link the adolescent and her family with available livelihood and skill training schemes.

Exemplary models like “Sanjivanee” should be scaled up to support nutrition and health during pregnancy and motherhood.

Odisha is making progress in its efforts to stop child marriages. The state was able to prevent 1,855 child marriages in 2022 (as of August) compared to 324 in 2017, according to the annual report of the Women and Child Development Department of Odisha.

The number was at 411 in 2018, 657 in 2019, 1,179 in 2020 and 1,734 in 2021.

The increasing trend implies that the state is becoming responsive towards adolescent empowerment and preventing child marriage.

But teenage pregnancy might erode these signs of progress. This trend is universal. Every year, an estimated 21 million girls aged 15-19 years in developing regions become pregnant and approximately 12 million of them give birth, according to data shared by the World Health Organization.

Child marriages and elopements can lead to adolescent pregnancy in many contexts. Low decision-making power in family planning, contraceptive use and medical termination of pregnancy makes adolescent girls vulnerable to the same.

In some cases, adolescent pregnancy can also lead to child marriage. The requirements of young mothers vary.

Unfortunately, our healthcare facilities, education system, skill development measures and social security policies are inadequate to cater to their needs.

The psychological and socio-economic consequences of adolescent pregnancy, as well as the social stigma associated with it, were not given adequate importance.

Adolescent pregnancy often hampers the young girl’s education and prospects of employment. Society stigmatises and accuses them, impacting their self-confidence and hampering their development.

Adolescent mothers and pregnant girls need critical support to resume their education, skill development; and access legal aid, interim compensation and social security.

Different schemes and programmes are in place to help adolescents rescued from child marriage. However, married girls are being neglected and deprived of such benefits.

An adolescent girl might not know what kind of support will help her during and after the pregnancy. Her family should support her in such cases.

Low socio-economic circumstances coupled with a lack of education, awareness and affordability create a very unconducive environment for them.

Some believe that social security measures provided for adolescent mothers will incentivise early pregnancies. These assumptions are irrational.

Patriarchal norms, cultural practices and failure to ensure children’s rights are the factors that worsen the situation. These factors should be addressed instead of pointing fingers at adolescent girls.

Most of these girls are vulnerable and can be considered as a child in need of care and protection under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.

Still, they are not entitled to benefits under schemes for pregnant women like MAMATA and Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana. Such discriminatory measures make their survival more difficult.

Adolescent mothers are often excluded from mainstream development despite them being at the receiving end. Comprehensive sex education for adolescents will help them manage the situation.

Exemplary models like “Sanjivanee” should be scaled up to support nutrition and health during pregnancy and motherhood.

Ghasiram Panda is the national manager of the Ending Child Marriage Programme of Action Aid India

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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