A 12-year-old girl from the state of Himachal Pradesh said, “There are no playing fields or sports facilities in our village.” Similarly, a 14-year old female from Rajasthan said, “Only boys play in my school. Girls have no access to any sports equipment. The only ball in the school is for boys only.” Yet another respondent, a 14-year-old female from the state of Madhya Pradesh said, “Trees are planted in our surrounding area, but… very few. People are getting sick day-by-day. I feel if each and every person planted a single tree, our India would become disease-free.” These are just a few examples of responses which emerged from a poll called ‘YouthBol’ (Voice of Youth) which has given Indian youngsters a voice.
This poll by the Centre for Catalysing Change (C3) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was conducted in the field as well as online. It was designed to give policymakers an understanding of what young people in the country want when it comes to health-related policies and programmes. Spanning a 10-month period, over 100,000, young people between the ages of 10 and 24 from across India were asked to identify what they considered to be the most important issues related to their health and well-being.
As per the findings, 36% of respondents said that health and well-being was their top priority. This demonstrated that youngsters today, believe that health goes beyond illness, disease, and treatment, to encompass factors like education, job opportunities, environment, and socio-economic conditions. The second highest priority identified was the need for better facilities at schools and in communities, with 26% of respondents asking for improvements in access to computers, libraries, food, sportsgrounds, roads, health centres, hygienic toilet facilities, clean air and water.
Elaborating further on these findings, Tanisha Chadha, Programme Officer for Strategic Investment (Youth) said, “The responses on toilets were based on both availability of toilets, and clean and functional facilities where they already existed. Some young people asked for clean water to be available in the washrooms, while others also asked for proper waste-disposal facilities.” Based on her interpretation, Chadha said that unclean toilets contributed to absenteeism and school dropout rates, especially with regard to menstruation, along with other health and hygiene repercussions.
Highlighting a few other findings, she also said that youth respondents to the poll asked for availability of nutritious food at affordable rates. “The answers stated that youngsters want greater affordability of fruit and that it should also be available at midday meals. Some asked for better quality of midday meals (the Midday Meal Scheme is a government school meal programme designed to improve the nutritional health of school-age children nationwide). A lot of the young respondents also asked for healthy and nutritious food to be available in school and college canteens at affordable prices, instead of fast food,” Chadha said.
While it was not expressly stated by the respondents, there was enough research that showed that a lack of physical activity (and spaces to play) as well as a lack of healthy and nutritious food do contribute to obesity, she said.
The need for a survey
The event at which these findings were released brought together representatives of government, civil society and media. Here, Dr Aparajita Gogoi, Executive Director of C3 explained why a poll like this is so important; “India has a huge population of young people. This 35-crore (1 crore = ten million) strong segment can have immense power in determining the future of this country. India’s young people need to have a say in designing the health policies and schemes that are primarily meant for them. We must ensure that young voices are included in the process of designing policies, programmes and schemes that impact them and help shape their lives. ‘YouthBol’ is an attempt to enable this.”
These results, said Dr Jiban Baishya USAID’s Health Office Representative, needed to be made use of and taken to the next step by policymakers.
“Each one of us has a critical role to play in expanding access to and ensuring the quality of youth-focused services. As you listen today, think about how your department or organisation can partner with other groups in the room to take India’s youth to the next level,” she said to the audience.
Substance abuse prevention was another key issue, with respondents stressing the need for information and services to deal with substance abuse. Bans on sales of alcohol and tobacco near schools and colleges; helplines for substance abuse issues and better access to good quality and free rehabilitation services were among points raised. Many young women ranked access to information and care on menstruation, menstrual pain management, and menstrual hygiene products at the top of their wish-list. They called for a better understanding of this issue and informed response from adults.
For the higher age group (20-24 years), particularly among married respondents, information on and access to contraceptive methods and family planning services emerged as a key priority. Mental health-related information and services were also a priority theme, with young people needing advice on how to cope with academic pressure and stress, peer pressure, and bullying. They also wanted better access to non-judgemental, confidential, and affordable mental health services.