International Youth Day 2013: Putting Youth Living with HIV in the Mix

With information and support from Alliance India's Action Project, youth have gained capacity and confidence to advocate for improved sexual and reproductive health policies and services for their peers. (Photo by Prashant Panjiar for India HIV/AIDS Alliance)

With information and support from Alliance India’s Action Project, youth have gained capacity and confidence to advocate for improved sexual and reproductive health policies and services for their peers. (Photo by Prashant Panjiar for India HIV/AIDS Alliance)

Fifty percent of India’s population is below 25 years of age. As they mature sexually, adolescents—especially those from high-risk groups—face vulnerability to HIV and experience a range of unmet sexual & reproductive health (SRH) needs. The SRH needs of too many of India’s adolescents continue to be underserved. Sexuality education in schools is limited, and social norms typically silence discussions of adolescent sexuality and act as barriers to creating responsive services. As adolescents become sexually active, they have limited access to the information and services they need. Adolescents show low levels of knowledge about puberty, menstruation, contraception, safer sex and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.

According to an Alliance India study conducted by our CHAHA programme with 72 girls and boys living with HIV and 95 girls and boys affected by HIV (aged 12-18 years), the support needed by these groups was intense, particularly among those who had lost one or both parents to HIV and whose remaining family members struggled to provide the needed level of ongoing support and supervision. In cases of orphaned adolescents, distant relationships with caregivers resulted in reluctance among adolescents to discuss issues and concerns about SRH openly and made them feel more isolated and lonely.

Moreover, the HIV status of adolescents themselves also influenced their level of engagement with their peers and the community. In the same study, adolescent girls living with HIV in Andhra Pradesh appeared to be isolating themselves from their peers due to self-stigma and feared discrimination, which seemed to be more common among girls than boys. As with older girls living with HIV, they appeared to be spending most of their time home alone since many lived in widow-headed households in which their mothers worked all day and were less available for support and conversation.

Boys living with HIV reported being teased by their peers for their stunted growth, delayed development and sexual inactivity often related to HIV status. Many of the adolescent boys living with HIV explained that they did not want to engage in any sexual relationships because they were afraid of ‘spoiling other people’s lives with HIV.’

For young people living with HIV, concerns about physical development, sexuality and reproduction, including getting married and having children, are immediate and profound. They feel pressure to control their desires and limit their aspirations because they are living with HIV. Little effort has been made to give them guidance on their choices, and youth-friendly counseling services are rarely if ever available to them.

Under our European Union-supported Action Project, Alliance India made some progress in efforts to empower youth, including those living with HIV, by educating them about SRH issues that are important to them—contraception, HIV prevention and care, STIs, hygiene, and pregnancy—and by discussing subjects that no one had ever talked to them about before. With this support, youth grew confident to advocate through the Youth Partnership Platforms formed under the project to encourage government to enact policies and offer services that respond more effectively to the SRH needs of young people like themselves.

There is a long journey ahead. This International Youth Day, let’s commit to shaping SRH services and policies that recognize the distinct challenges youth face, that reflect their diversity (including issues around gender identity and same-sex desire), and that address the stigma and discrimination that poisons the lives of adolescents living with HIV.

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The author of this post, Sonal Mehta, is Director: Policy and Programme of India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.

The Action Project (2010-13) was funded by the European Union and strengthened and empowered civil society organisations and youth groups to advocate for more responsive policies addressing the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people. The project focused on the most marginalised young people—MSM and transgender community members, drug users, sex workers and those living with HIV. The project was implemented in partnership with MAMTA and SASO in India and by HASAB in Bangladesh. Over its life, the Action Project contributed to shaping SRHR policies and their implementation in India and Bangladesh by supporting the meaningful participation of young people in relevant processes and programmes.

Join us for the World AIDS Day All-India Run & Cultural Event! (Sunday, 2 December 2012 in New Delhi)

World AIDS Day 2012 All-India Run and Cultural Event
***8am-2pm (***PLEASE note EARLIER starting time!)
Sunday, 2 December 2012

New Delhi

Organized by: India HIV/AIDS Alliance

Co-sponsored by: Population Council; Citibank; UNDP; Centre for Advocacy & Research (CFAR); Delhi Frontrunners; and Blind Relief Association

RSVP: Please let us know if you’ll join us. Click here!

All-India Run: Participants will include people affected by the epidemic, their friends and families, community members, students and other stakeholders motivated to raise awareness of HIV in India, including the private sector. At least 500 participants are expected to participate in the run, and medals will be awarded to the top finishers in the men’s, women’s and transgender categories.

Members of affected communities have also been invited to speak and serve as judges for the run. Representatives from a range of stakeholders have also been invited, including NACO, UN agencies, international donors and NGOs, along with Alliance India implementing partners and beneficiary communities from all over India.

Activities will begin at 8am at Safdarjung Tomb. The run will start around 9am and will follow Lodhi Road, ending at the Blind Relief Association (aka Delhi Blind School), near the Oberoi Hotel. The Cultural Event will take place immediately following the race on the ground of Delhi Blind School and will last until 2pm. (For detailed route information, please see map below.)

Starting Line:
Safdarjang Tomb, Lodi Estate
(At the intersection of Safdarjang Road and Aurobindo Marg)

Metro Station: Jor Bagh

Finish Line:
Blind Relief Association (aka Delhi Blind School)
Lal Bahadur Shastri Marg
Lodhi Road H.O.

(Near Oberoi Hotel)

Cultural Event: Immediately following the run, the Cultural Event will take place at Delhi Blind School. Celebrating life and creativity in the face of the epidemic, the cultural event will consist of music and drama performances. The jazz and rock bands invited have members from communities affected by the epidemic. Co-sponsor Population Council will organize a skit presentation between music acts to highlight issues of at-risk populations. Lunch will be available. In addition, stalls will be set up by sponsors and other national and international organisations, including Population Council, Citibank, and UNDP, to present their work addressing HIV/AIDS and supporting communities.

This event is open to the public. There is no fee for participation. Participants are encouraged to wear red or white, but all will be welcomed. 

Jamia Millia Islamia, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Bhim Rao Ambedkar College, and Amity University are collaborating with Alliance India to provide volunteers for the event and organise student participation.

If you have any questions, please email us at: worldaidsday@allianceindia.org

Poster: Help get the word out about this event. Print out our poster and display it in your community. Thanks!

Map of World AIDS Day All-India Run Route and Cultural Event Location

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Alliance India’s World AIDS Day 2012 Objectives
  • To raise awareness on the need for continued support to address HIV among high-risk groups
  • To celebrate the diversity of affected communities with a focus on living lives free from stigma and discrimination
  • To acknowledge and encourage stakeholders, including government, civil society and the private sector, to intensify efforts to ensure a continuum of care services for affected communities
India HIV/AIDS Alliance

Based in New Delhi, Alliance India was founded in 1999 as a non-governmental organization operating partnership with civil society and communities to support sustained responses to HIV in India. Complementing the Indian national program, Alliance India works through capacity building, technical support and advocacy to strengthen delivery of effective, innovative, community- based interventions to key populations affected by the epidemic. The organization’s programs focus on those most vulnerable to HIV, with a particular emphasis on marginalized populations, such as men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, transgenders, and sex workers.

World AIDS Day Background

World AIDS Day has been observed since 1988. HIV/AIDS has become one of the defining health and development issues of our time. Low- and middle-income nations, even those with increasingly powerful economies like India, still face serious shortfalls in resources for AIDS. Stigma and discrimination toward those affected by the epidemic continue to create significant barriers to effective responses. Two-thirds of those who require antiretroviral treatment to live healthy lives still do not have access to these life-saving drugs. Investment in programming for high-risk populations such as men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, and transgenders continue to be grossly insufficient. Worldwide HIV has infected an estimated 34 million people. In India, the National AIDS Control Organisation estimates overall adult HIV prevalence at 0.31%, which translates into roughly 2.4 million people living with HIV in India.

2012 Global Theme for World AIDS Day

The theme for World AIDS Day as chosen by UNAIDS and its partners is Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths. World AIDS Day advocacy will focus on ensuring universal access to services including prevention, care, support and treatment and of fulfilling human rights.

Creating Change One Peer Group at a Time

An Action Project peer group leader (centre) meets with her youth group members. These meetings offer a space for group members to share any SRHR related concerns they may have about issues like child marriage, HIV, safe sex and family planning.

The Action Project empowers youth by educating them about issues that are important to them and discussing subjects that no one has talked to them about before. In conservative areas such as Allahabad where speaking about sexual, reproductive or health rights (SRHR) is considered taboo, discussing these issues openly, especially by youth, is a concept that took a while to be accepted. However, the difficulty or novelty of this situation did not prevent youth from working as peer leaders with the Action Project in order to pass on information about contraception, HIV prevention and care, STIs, hygiene, pregnancy or nutrition to other youth in their village.

Peer leaders are integral to the work that the Action Project does. The project’s partner NGOs in Allahabad and Manipur train youth peer leaders on how to create groups that they go on to mentor, and teaches them how to lobby for district and state-wide policy changes on issues related to youth and sexual reproductive health.

Savera (name changed), a 20-year-old peer leader, says, ”I was completely unaware about hygiene and nutrition during menstruation, safe sex, condom use or consensual sex. I also learned so much about HIV prevention and care here.” Remembering when she first started working as a peer leader, she recalls, “the village people used to call me ‘characterless’ because I spoke openly about sexual reproductive rights which was something ‘nice, conservative girls’ aren’t allowed to talk about. Now, however, my uncles and other village elders ask me to get their daughters involved in the project.”

And more and more girls are doing just that. Another peer leader who joined the Action Project, Divya (name changed) found the information she received from the Action Project to be helpful on a very personal level. The 19-year-old explains, “I met this boy in college three years ago and we began to like each other and he asked me to have sex with him. After everything I had learnt from this project, I knew that I didn’t want to have sex with him and I had the right to say ‘No’, and so I refused. I’m happy that I had the right information and was able to protect myself from potentially ruining my life.”

It is important to note that having the right information isn’t enough if it isn’t coupled with the confidence to share the information or to quest for more information. While speaking about her exposure to health camps and information sharing meetings with doctors, Savera said, “I would never have dreamed of speaking to a doctor even about my own health problems. Now I can openly ask doctors questions about HIV and other issues and I can see how amazed they are that I, being a village girl, am able to confidently ask these things.” Kavita added, “I used to be ashamed when they taught us about SRHR but now there is no shame and our perspectives have changed. Now I feel confident and at ease sharing information about SRHR.”

With the right type of support and access to information, the Action Project is building the capacity of these young leaders and offering them a sense of confidence they never had before, while also empowering them to change the social landscape of their villages one peer group at a time.

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The Action Project is funded by the European Commission and endeavours to strengthen and empower civil society organisations and youth groups to advocate for more responsive policies addressing the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people. The project focuses on the most marginalised young people—MSM and transgender community members, drug users, sex workers and those living with HIV. The project is being implemented in partnership with MAMTA and SASO in India and by HASAB in Bangladesh.  By 2013, the Action project will have contributed to shaping SRHR policies and their implementation in India and Bangladesh by supporting the meaningful participation of young people in relevant processes and programmes.

The power of youth participation: Secures essential vitamin supplements for unmarried, adolescent girls.

A youth group leader engages with members of the village council.
(Photograph © Prashant Panjiar for India HIV/AIDS Alliance)

In Bahadur Block of Allahabad in the state of Uttar Pradesh, young people have ensured the access to iron and folic acid supplements for adolescent girls in their locality. Iron and folic acid deficiency is common in similar locations since residents in these areas receive inadequate nutrition, which can lead to anemia and symptoms such as fatigue.

This marks a novel move for Bahadur Block since these supplements were earlier provided only to pregnant women, and a significant move for the youth groups in this area which continue to play a powerful role in village level health programmes. This particular youth group frequently attended Gram Sabha, or village council, level meetings which emphasises the importance that the village elders in Bahadur Block place on the opinions of youth group members. It was during one such meeting when youth group members had expressed the need to disseminate these essential supplements to young girls in their village, to which the village leaders agreed.

Youth group members feel proud of the important role they have been playing in the development of their villages. Group members have created a change in the awareness levels of villagers at a scale that few believed was possible in such a short amount of time.
(Photograph © Prashant Panjiar for India HIV/AIDS Alliance)

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The Action Project is funded by the European Commission and endeavours to strengthen and empower civil society organisations and youth groups to advocate for more responsive policies addressing the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people. The project focuses on the most marginalised young people—MSM and transgender community members, drug users, sex workers and those living with HIV. The project is being implemented in partnership with MAMTA and SASO in India and by HASAB in Bangladesh.  By 2013, the Action Project will have contributed to shaping SRHR policies and their implementation in India and Bangladesh by supporting the meaningful participation of young people in relevant processes and programmes.

How Integration Responds to the SRHR Needs of PLHIV

People living with HIV (PLHIV) have the same sexual and reproductive rights as anyone else – such as the right to choose who to have sex with and to have sexual relations free from violence. They also share many of the same needs for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information, support, commodities and services – such as advice about family planning.

However, due to many factors, PLHIV often experience greater vulnerability to SRH related ill health than other community members. They may experience  specific or more complex SRHR needs; additional or stronger barriers to accessing SRHR services; and weaker capacity or opportunities to demand SRHR services. These factors are further affected – sometimes complicated – by the differences between individual PLHIV, such as in terms of their gender, age, legal status and whether they use drugs or are involved in sex work.

As a result, PLHIV often have significant unmet needs for SRHR. These can ‘fall through the net’ of both: HIV services (often designed to address specific risk behaviors rather than the ‘whole person’); and SRHR services (often designed for the general public and focused on mainstream services, such as family planning).

This brief specifically focuses on the importance, but also challenges, of HIV/SRHR integration for people living with HIV (PLHIV). It is based on the experiences of a growing number of groups working with such communities to put integration into practice in a range of setting. These groups include MAMTA and the India HIV/AIDS Alliance in India; TASO in Uganda; RHAC in Cambodia; and POZ in Haiti. The work of these groups offers important insights into ‘what works’. But they also highlight that everyone is still learning and questions remain about what constitutes good practice.

The issue brief promotes integration as a desirable goal in the long-term. However, it also emphasizes that organizations must work in a way and at pace that is appropriate and feasible for them – to ensure that the joining of HIV and SRHR services and systems enhances, rather than compromises, support for PLHIV.

This review was commissioned by the India HIV/AIDS Alliance with support from the European Union under the Action Project and explores experiences and lessons from around the world including Asia and the Pacific. This issue brief is part of a series of materials resulting from a review of good practice in the integration of HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights for key populations.

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Alliance India works closely with PLHIV in India through its Koshish project which aims to strengthened civil society organizations and networks that represent and work with PLHIV and other marginalized groups, such as MSM, transgenders, sex workers and IDUs, to effectively advocate for policies to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of PLHIV in India. This project is funded by the European Commison and is implemented in partnership with MAMTA, PWDS, VMM and CHETNA, along with state-level networks for PLHIV in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

Silent No More: Empowering Young People to Speak Out about Sexual & Reproductive Health and Rights

A youth group leader (left) in Allahabad speaks to members of her group.

When the Action Project first started working in Uttar Pradesh and Manipur, the shyness displayed by young people when speaking about subjects considered taboo—including their sexual & reproductive health and rights (SRHR)—were obvious to the Action Project team. This proved to be a dilemma since vocal and outspoken discussions regarding these issues was exactly what the project’s team members wanted these young people to participate in.

Given that child marriages were a common occurrence, following which young girls were pressured to start having children, discussing issues such as family planning, contraception or HIV prevention was critical to reversing this trend.  The Action Project slowly started discussing issues related to SRHR with young people and soon saw a gradual change in their understanding of and confidence in speaking out about these subjects.

Now, Action Project members say that there is a stark difference in the confidence levels of youth members as compared to when the project was first initiated. Young people are now more able and willing to discuss topics related to their SRHR and have increased knowledge on prevention, HIV, safer sex and condom use, and are better prepared to access health services.  Peer leaders report mentoring other youth group members who have felt pressured to get married early or to have sex by their partners.

Additionally, the new found confidence and respect experienced by youth group members have allowed them to raise their concerns with the pradhan (village council leader) and other village government officials who have started to pay attention and have responded to their suggestions on village development. Female youth group members have also reported a reduction in their experience of gender discrimination. Young peer leaders in Uttar Pradesh have even been selected by a radio programme sponsored by the Directorate of Information and Broadcasting to talk about SRHR on the show. These are changes that youth group members have catalyzed through their engagement with the Action Project. Silent no more, they now speak up and make their claim for a better tomorrow in their communities.

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The Action Project is funded by the European Commission and endeavours to strengthen and empower civil society organisations and youth groups to advocate for more responsive policies addressing the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people. The project focuses on the most marginalised young people—MSM and transgender community members, drug users, sex workers and those living with HIV. The project is being implemented in partnership with MAMTA and SASO in India and by HASAB in Bangladesh.  By 2013, the Action Project will have contributed to shaping SRHR policies and their implementation in India and Bangladesh by supporting the meaningful participation of young people in relevant processes and programmes.

HIV/SRHR Integration for Key Populations

HIV/SRHR Integration for Key Populations: A review of experiences and lessons learned in India and globally

This report summarises the findings of a review commissioned by India HIV/AIDS Alliance and funded by the European Union of experiences and lessons from integrating HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in programmes for key populations which include people living with HIV (PLHIV), sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people and people who use drugs.The report outlines definitions and benefits of HIV/SRHR integration for these key populations and presents some general lessons learned about good practice. It also addresses each of the selected key populations – describing issues to consider within integrated HIV/ SRHR support, sharing key strategies and providing examples of integration in action.

The review was carried out within a context of growing interest in HIV/SRHR integration. There is a growing wealth of evidence that the strategy ‘makes good sense’ and brings concrete benefits – including to people, services and national health systems.

The review specifically responded to the ‘push’ for HIV/SRHR integration within the changing and increasingly complex environment for responses to HIV. Within this context – one characterised by constrained resources, increased demands for cost-efficiency and political re-positioning (with HIV increasingly integrated into wider frameworks for health) – integration is clearly an important strategic option. It also, however, risks being seen as a ‘magic bullet’.

In India – as well as other countries in the Asia and the Pacific Region and globally – there is increasing policy support for the concept of HIV/SRHR integration. However, there remain significant questions and uncertainties about what such programming means in practice. This is particularly the case within the context of a concentrated HIV epidemic – where little is still known about what integration should ‘look like’ (for groups such as sex workers and men who have sex with men) and what practical opportunities and challenges it involves.

However, while integration is a desirable goal in the long-run, concerns remain that the joining of programmes and systems that are not ready could, in fact, compromise the quality of and access to services for key populations. This review identifies a number of challenges and recommendations for SRHR/HIV integrated programmes. These challenges need to be taken into account when national responses aim to scale up SRHR/HIV integrated programming. While this approach clearly has the potential to increase reach and improve quality of interventions, integrating services and systems that are not ready may in the short-run actually compromise outcomes for key populations.

A number of critical questions remain outstanding. These include: Do we have strong evidence to support HIV/SRHR integration as an effective approach to improve both SRHR and HIV outcomes specifically for key populations? If so, what needs to be taken into account to ensure that integration does not compromise access to services for key populations? For example, what type, pace and scale of integration works best for specific populations in specific contexts? And what is possible in the short-term and what goals should be set for long-term?

To download publication click here.

Alliance India Events at AIDS 2012 on Sunday, July 22

India HIV/AIDS Alliance invites you today (Sunday, July 22, Global Village Session Room 1, 3:45-5:45pm) for the satellite session on Reaching Key Populations through SRH/HIV Integration: Opportunities for Impact

This session is organised by India HIV/AIDS Alliance with support from European Commission and chaired by UNAIDS, it will present programming experiences highlighting the challenges and successful approaches used in integrated programmes specific to key populations such as MSM and Transgender people, Sex Workers, PLHIV and People Who Use Drugs. Panelists include the Alliance’s Sunita Grote, USAID’s Clancy Broxton, CAMNAFAW’s Nathalie Nkoume, and NEPHAK’s Rahab Mwaniki.

Take a sneak peak on our latest publications that are being showcased today at AIDS 2012 on HIV/SRHR Integration for Key Populations. Please click on the specific title to view or download the publication. Stay tuned for more updates!


New Publication (Policy Brief)
Key Linkages and Key Populations : Is HIV/SRHR Integration Serving the Needs of Vulnerable Communities?


New Publication (Desk Review)
HIV/SRHR Integration for Key Populations : A review of experiences and lessons learned in India and globally


New Publication (Issue Brief)
HIV/SRHR Integration for Sex Workers


New Publication (Issue Brief)
HIV/SRHR Integration for Men who have Sex with Men and Transgender People


New Publication (Issue Brief)
HIV/SRHR Integration for People Living with HIV


New Publication (Issue Brief)
HIV/SRHR Integration for People Who Use Drugs

We’ll update our blog everyday with details on activities that we are participating in, and will also upload documents so that you can view them online or download them. If you have any questions, please contact us at info@allianceindia.org. You can also view our AIDS 2012 Roadmap for all India HIV/AIDS Alliance sessions at the International AIDS Conference. We look forward in connecting with you at AIDS 2012!

Helping Action Project Youth Raise Their Voices

Key correspondents at the communication and documentation training in Uttar Pradesh

All of us at the Action Project were thrilled at the idea of training select youth members, also known as our Key Correspondents, in the area of documentation and communication. We were all too aware that the voices of the youth in India have been ignored for far too long. In order to ensure that this changes, we knew that we needed to equip our key correspondents with the right skills to communicate youth-specific needs in a manner that would make people listen.

We organised trainings for key correspondents in Manipur and Uttar Pradesh in June, but the process of creating a communication and documentation training module started earlier. The training module served to assist key correspondents in identifying various mediums through which they could share youth specific issues as well as their accomplishments through the Action Project – for example, organising events that raised awareness about the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people.

Before we created the module, we held a discussion with key correspondents about the topics that interested each of them, and the areas in which they wanted to develop their communication skills. This strategy helped us create a training module that balanced the needs of the Action Project with the interests of the correspondents.

Our training broadly covered topics on the role and responsibilities of key correspondents;  the basics of journalism; how to write reports and articles; visual communication through grafitti and murals; documenting case studies; and creating posters and slogans.

The vibrancy and creativity of the youth members who participated in the trainings blew us away.  Key correspondents said that they learned a great deal from the group work, role-playing and games, all of which formed a part of the training module.  “Communication is not just about expressing your thoughts but also about listening to others”, was a sentiment that came up frequently when participants discussed what had stood out to them the most at the training.

Action Project’s training helps key correspondents hone their critical thinking skills and helps arm them with the ability to identify pertinent local youth issues and to share these issues with a diverse group of beneficiaries and stakeholders which include other youth, village council members, government officials and the media. This is no easy task, but our key correspondents don’t seem to be deterred by the challenge!

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The author of this blog, Bhawana Negi is Alliance India’s Programme Officer for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

The Action Project is funded by the European Commission and endeavours to strengthen and empower civil society organisations and youth groups to advocate for more responsive policies addressing the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people. The project focuses on the most marginalised young people—MSM and transgender community members, drug users, sex workers and those living with HIV. The project is being implemented in partnership with MAMTA and SASO in India and by HASAB in Bangladesh.  By 2013, the Action project will have contributed to shaping SRHR policies and their implementation in India and Bangladesh by supporting the meaningful participation of young people in relevant processes and programmes.

A Beacon of Hope in the Fight Against Child Marriage : One Girl’s Story

A youth leader discusses the risks of child marriage with youth group members in Allahabad

Kavita recounts how her family was recently wracked by conflict. She says quietly, “My older sister, who was 18 years old at the time, was getting married. My family members decided that I should get married along with her. But I’m much younger than her and didn’t want to get married. I must have fought with my parents and relatives every day for about 5 to 6 months about this.”

The issue of child marriage is a very common problem in Kavita’s hometown of Allahabad in the conservative Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Here, girls are married early and are expected to bear children soon after.  Issues such as contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and reproductive rights of young people are met with a wall of silence. Since these issues are not openly discussed, children like Kavita are left with few options but to passively protest their inevitable fates.

Kavita was luckier than most since she had a temporary escape to go to whenever things at home became too much to deal with. Her escape consisted of the youth centre established by the Action Project. At this centre, Kavita met like-minded girls, most of whom were no strangers to familial pressure to get married at a very young age.  The Action Project had set up these youth centres so that young boys and girls could enjoy this safe environment which allowed them the opportunity to speak freely with their friends, engage in healthy activities such as sports and games, and learn about their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

It was at the youth centre that Kavita first received information about child marriage, which, she says, made her feel more confident at the notion of standing up to her family. However, when her mother discovered that the youth centre was offering information that went against an age old tradition, Kavita was forbidden to visit the youth centre again. It was only after Kavita discussed what she had learned about child marriage with her mother, that the pressure to get married waned. Although Kavita’s mother had listened with an open mind, Kavita’s uncle still called from Delhi yelling at her to get married. Kavita said that the last time this happened, “I told him that I could send him to jail if he forced me to get married. I knew it was illegal.”

Soon, Kavita volunteered to become a peer leader, which meant that it was her responsibility to meet with other girls in her neighbourhood and be a mentor to them. She leads meetings every week and discusses issues related to SRHR, including HIV, and other issues that are meaningful to the girls in her group.

When she joined as peer leader, Kavita says that she was intimidated at the thought of speaking with other parents in the village to educate them about important issues such as child marriage. But that slowly changed over time. Kavita says, “Earlier, no one in the village knew me, but now people greet me nicely and recognize me. We (peer leaders) would be scared to speak with the Pradan (Village Leader) because we thought he’d scold us and tell us that we were children, but now we possess the confidence to speak with him, and he listens to what we have to say.”

Kavita is just one of many young girls who found the courage to stand up for their rights by joining the Action Project. Her personal goal, she says, is to ensure that no member of her peer group is forced into child marriage. She seems determined and sincere as she slowly repeats that there is no chance of this happening on her watch.

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The Action Project is funded by the European Commission and endeavours to strengthen and empower civil society organisations and youth groups to advocate for more responsive policies addressing the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people. The project focuses on the most marginalised young people—MSM and transgender community members, drug users, sex workers and those living with HIV. The project is being implemented in partnership with MAMTA and SASO in India and by HASAB in Bangladesh.  By 2013, the Action project will have contributed to shaping SRHR policies and their implementation in India and Bangladesh by supporting the meaningful participation of young people in relevant processes and programmes.