`Many young brides may be more vulnerable to HIV than unmarried girls'

73 per cent of young people have misconceptions about HIV: survey

Aarti Dhar

`Many young brides may be more vulnerable to HIV than unmarried girls'

NEW DELHI: The Social Assessment of HIV/AIDS Among Tribal People in India has indicated that young people are sexually active before marriage and outside of marriage, more than was thought. While boys are more sexually active than girls, both have very little information on sexuality and HIV/AIDS prevention. Girls have almost no information, and boys have incorrect information. Almost 73 per cent of young people carried misconceptions related to modes of transmission of HIV/AIDS, according to the assessment by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).

Girls are `doubly vulnerable' because many of them are in circumstances that place them at risk such as living on the streets, in brothels, as orphans, labourers and as children infected by HIV. Lacking the power to negotiate safe sex, many young brides may be more vulnerable to HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) than unmarried girls. These young mothers become part of the adult population and may not receive the benefits of efforts that could provide them with needed information and services.

Other young people such as street children, adolescent sex workers, orphans and migrants, are `marginalised' from mainstream services and society, and are thus even more vulnerable. Their poverty forces them to endure situations that put them at risk of unprotected sex. An increase in the number of street and working children over the last decade reflects the emerging AIDS crisis. Children born to women in the sex trade are also at high risk of the disease. Vulnerability of children and women is also aggravated by the demand for, and the selling of, younger girls for the sex trade, the social assessment suggests.

Pointing out that adolescents today grow up in an environment that is full of mixed messages about sex, drug use, alcohol, and adolescent pregnancy, the survey calls for helping the youth in accessing appropriate information.

When young people receive knowledge on inter-related issues they are in a better position to make wise choices.

The programme planners need to recognise the multiplicity of concerns and design programmes more holistically.

Young people are very diverse and there are no `one size fit all' approaches. Strategies to reach them must correspond to their life situations (married or unmarried, in or out of school, employed or not, at special risk, HIV affected or infected).

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