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  • Activists blame India’s coyness towards sex education for the spread of AIDS

    The Indian government's coyness towards sex education for the young, who are becoming increasingly promiscuous, is fuelling the spread of AIDS, say social activists

    “There is a large population of about 300 million young people in the age group 12-24 in India, and recent studies show their growing preference for pre-marital sex,” says Rakesh Kumar, director of the Centre for Health and Development, a Patna-based NGO. “The government has no plans for the sexual health education of this group,” he says.

    Nearly four million Indians are carriers of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, making it the largest HIV-positive population in the world, after South Africa. Unofficial estimates put the figure at closer to five million. Various social groups suggest that in the next 100 years, India will have the highest number of AIDS cases in the world.

    Three-quarters of those infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus live in five states, with the southern state of Tamil Nadu at the top, followed by Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Manipur.

    “Led by a consumerist boom, the youth in India are actively indulging in sex. Their lack of education about safe sex norms expose them to the AIDS trap,” says Kumar.

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

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

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

    Activists argue that the government should target and educate young people to stem the rampant spread of the disease, as the country’s rigid social customs, where men enjoy privileged status, hinder the use of condoms.

    “Young boys and girls in the age group 12-24 are most susceptible to unsafe sexual encounters and they should be made the target group for government AIDS awareness programmes,” says Aditi Puri, a social activist and AIDS worker. “This is, however, not a government priority. There is no consensus in India over introducing sex and reproductive health education in the school and college syllabus,” she adds.

    Government officials say they oppose introducing sex education in schools in a country considered by many to have puritanical attitudes toward sex.

    “Our society is not an open one. Inclusion of sex education in the syllabus can also have an adverse effect,” says Ram Chandra Purbey, Bihar’s state primary education minister.

    A government official working on state-sponsored health programmes echoed the minister’s views. “At the government level, it seems the officials end their responsibilities by distributing condoms free. Educating (the young) seems to be a big task,” he said.

    India has said it will look to South Africa and China for research collaborations 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: The Times of India

    October 29, 2002

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