India shuns sex education for young people

Posted: 30 October 2002

The Indian government has no plans to introduce sex education for 12 to 24 year olds, even though this age-group now numbers about 300 million and studies show that they have a growing interest in pre-marital sex. This is fuelling the spread of AIDS, social activists say.

A recent survey of youth in Bombay by the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Youth, concluded that 64 per cent of youth aged 14 to 19 were no longer virgins, with 43 per cent of them having visited prostitutes.

In another survey of unmarried young Indians, conducted by The Week magazine, 69 per cent of men admitted to premarital sex compared to 38 per cent of women.

Forty-five per cent of Indians had premarital sex between ages 16 and 19, while 27 per cent were 15 or under and 28 per cent were 20 or older.

Rigid social customs hinder the use of condoms and activists want the government to target and educate young people who are most at risk ofunsafe sexual encounters. This, however, is not a government priority.

"Our society is not an open one. Inclusion of sex education in the syllabus can also have an adverse effect," said Ram Chandra Purbey, stateprimary education minister for the northern state of Bihar.

Rakesh Kumar, director of the non-governmental Center for Health and Development in northern India points out that nearly four million Indianscarry HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, making it the largest HIV-positive population in the world after South Africa. Unofficial estimates put thefigure at closer to five million. Three-quarters of those infected live in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Manipur.

India has said it will look to South Africa and China for research collaboration and partnerships in developing its own India-specific anti-AIDS vaccine. Last year, the Indian health ministry signed a pact with the US-based International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) to develop an anti-AIDS vaccine appropriate for use in India. The first phase of clinical trials could start in New Delhi in late 2003.

Source: Agence France Presse and IPPF