1. INTRODUCTION 1. 1 Focusing on an invisible group Neither “children” nor full “adults”, adolescents are virtually invisible in the literature on Indian development. This report focuses on young people from this age group basing itself both on the limited secondary data available as well as on a one time cross sectional field survey in Delhi, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
For long and for various reasons the focus of attention has been on children till the age of 14 – an age group which encompasses both childhood (6-10 years) and early adolescence (11-14 years). The concern has been on whether these children have been enrolled in school or are engaged in economic activity and whether ‘education for all’ (EFA) targets have been met. In this report we shift the attention upward from 14 years to encompass both younger and older adolescents i.e. 11-18 years3 and see how they are faring more than a decade after education for all initiatives swept the country. When we look at this age group issues overlap and widen. They range beyond enrolment, retention and child labour, to a more complete understanding of what capacity building has been possible for the young person and what his future is going to be. What kind of opportunities has he or she had and what appears to be the outlook in what is unmistakeably a globalised economy. The survey highlights the growing aspirations of parents and young people and the way in which these aspirations are generally not fulfilled often inspite of poignant struggle.
The period of adolescence is of enormous interest and considerable complexity, transiting as it does between childhood and adulthood. It encompasses the stage of sexual maturation, and there is some blurring of the exact demarcation of the lines which separate this group from that of the young adults.4 In traditional rural societies, adolescents move early into adulthood, in fact the child steps easily into adult roles. The lives of adolescent boys lives resemble the lives of adult men – their concern is looking for remunerative work, they have more freedom and mobility than before,5 and some are even married. Adolescent girls in such societies, particularly once past puberty, have much less freedom and mobility. Their lives revolve more about the home where they may be engaged in both household chores and economic work, and most of those in the 15-18 age group will be married and even had their first child. The role of the adolescent in indutrialised societies is viewed differently. Here the emphasis is more on education and capacity building and in identity choices as the young person searches for answers to who he is and what he should be. It has been suggested6 that ‘adolescence’ as a distinct period emerged in industrialised societies with industrialisation offering young people economic and social opportunities to acquire new production skills. This went side by side with the development of the schooling system and the role of education as a means to better employment opportunities. Today, when the span of education for privileged classes is longer we have what has been called a delayed adolescence7when working life can be postponed till the twenties. In the myriad landscapes of our country reflected somewhat during our own survey we have encountered societies traditional, less traditional and industrialised -- often in uneasy coexistence. On the whole parents and adolescents have heightened awareness of the possible chances that education brings with it.
1.2. Attitude of the Indian State: As mentioned earlier younger adolescents (11-14 years) have the benefit of many official schemes which do offer a limited degree of protection. This is owing to both international and internal pressures ranging from millenium education goals to the Indian constitution which guarantees schooling till the age of 14. It also provides protection for working children which includes the ban on children being employed in factories, mines or any type of hazardous labour. Similar legislation is enacted more recently through the Child labour Act of 1986, which specifies a maximum 6 day work week, 7 p.m. curfew, and a minimum age of 14 years for those working in a unit employing more than 10 persons and using power.
However, and this is important, the minimum age legislation does not apply to agriculture (which accounts for the majority of child labourers) or to common sources of employment among child labourers in urban areas (domestic service and small workshops in the informal sector). Secondly, even today, though proportions of children involved in what is officially constituted as child labour are small the problem persists. India has signed a MOU in 1992 with IPEC (International Programme for Elimination of Child Labour), under which it will focus on progressively eliminating child labour, particularly in its worst forms. Side by side with eliminating child labour, IPEC also seeks to promote opportunities for “decent work”: working children are to be given opportunities for education and training, and parents’ employment opportunities are to be enhanced.8
Eighteen is the legal age of adulthood, and it is not till this point that the young person has voting rights, criminal liability and contractual obligation. But state policies do not look at older adolescents as requiring either compulsory education or protection from all but the most hazardous work.9 Again, as mentioned earlier, the problem of early marriage and childbearing is still an enormous one in India and the law does not permit marriage of a girl till 18 and a boy till 21. The law has scarcely been noticed in (remote) rural areas and the problem remains endemic.
1.2.1Recent attention from policy makers: As the 10th five year plan working group -indicates the adolescent age group has recently been the focus of attention. The document deplores the fact that adolescents are not seen as a separate category. Usually they are a sub-group subsumed under children, or under youth, or under women as we see in chapter 2 where we look at secondary data.
Reasons for this renewed attention to this vulnerable group are not difficult to see. They include the need for progress in controlling the burgeoning population figures in many developing countries. Population related anxieties are at the core of the reproductive health focus which makes adolescents, particularly girls, an important group. They are also seen as valuable assets in social transformation and there is consciousness of wider issues of gender discrimination which hamper the process. The need to raise the female literacy rate, and draw girls into school is seen as an urgent one. The HIV / AIDS pandemic sweeping across Africa and Asia is also a source of concern. In addition, the vulnerability of this age group to antisocial activities including drug abuse and crime is also well known.
In addition, there is the understanding that adolescents need education in life skills10 to empower them to behave in an “adaptive and positive” manner to deal with the challenges of everyday life -- a type of capacity building for all-round development.11 The premise for development of life skills among adolescents is that this will increase the possibility of their becoming responsible, healthy and productive adults.
2. OVERVIEW OF ADOLESCENTS
Before we turn our attention to the adolescents in our survey, we take a brief look at a landscape picture of the adolescents as generated by secondary data. Just how large is the proportion of the Indian population falling in the adolescent age group. What are the children in this age group doing in terms of schooling or work or even marriage? How do their experiences vary on the basis of parameters like age, gender, caste or class? These are obvious questions for an overview but for these and other questions it is often difficult to provide answers simply because of various limitations of the data available.
2.1 Secondary data sources and their limitations While the census data usually is the best possible source for understanding any particular age group, only limited information on the age specific data of 2001 census is out yet.12 So for the overview we have also relied on large sample surveys like different rounds of NSSO and NFHS data, but this has led us to contend with other problems. One such problem is the absence of a systematic focus on this group as we mentioned in Chapter 1. For the younger group (11-14 years) the focus is on the schooling/work connection. For the older set (15-18 years) it is on reproductive health. Both younger and older adolescents may well be clubbed with younger children or older youth (19-24 years) respectively to further make the picture even more blurred. Another important issue is the comparability of the data since the different data collection agencies have not presented data by uniform age groups. The Census uses a five year gap pattern and we have looked at the 10-14 and 15-19 age groups for our purpose. NFHS has followed a similar grouping but because of its family health focus, not much information is available on those in 10-14 year age-group. NSSO, when looking at school participation has usually dealt with 6-10, 11-13 and 14-17 year age groups, which correspond to primary (classes 1-5), middle (classes 6-8) and secondary (classes 9-12) stages of schooling. For employment issues they have the “child labour” focus and have looked at 6-14 year olds as children, with subgroups of 6-10 and 11-14 year olds. The 15-19 year olds are treated as part of the adult workers.