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Care and Support of Unmarried Adolescent Girls in Rajasthan

Adolescent girls have considerable unmet needs in health, reproductive health, and nutrition. A survey in Rajasthan sought to ascertain the extent to which unmarried adolescent girls receive care and support from their parents. Study findings suggest that a majority of them received a high or medium level of care. There was no clear pattern by socio-economic status. In a context where gender discrimination is rife, some families, regardless of their economic circumstances, do seem to provide nutrition, health, and psychosocial care for their adolescent daughters.

REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESnovember 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly54Care and Support of Unmarried Adolescent Girls in RajasthanAlka Barua, Hemant Apte, Pradeep KumarAdolescents constitute nearly 22 per cent of the population of India [Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India 2001]. They are a vulnerable group, especially in terms of nutrition and health. Adolescent girls in particular have considerable unmet needs in terms of health, especially reproductive health, and nutrition. This is in large part due to the lack of targeted health services for adolescents, widespread gender discrimination and son-preference that prevail and limit adolescent girls’ access to health services as well as the practice of early marriage and childbearing that persists and puts adolescent girls and their children at increased risk of adverse outcomes. Early Marriage and Its ConsequencesThe prevalence of early marriage is 44.5 per cent in India overall (52.5 per cent in rural areas) (NFHS-3, 2005-06). The con-sequences of early marriage and childbearing are far-reaching and intergenerational. Adolescent pregnancy contributes to maternal morbidity and mortality, and poor birth outcomes in-cluding prematurity, low birth weight, neonatal morbidity and mortality [Jejeebhoy 2000]. The risk of maternal death is about three times higher in girls aged 15-19 years and five times high-er in those younger than 15 years as compared with women in their 20s [Mehra et al 2004]. Controlled studies in several sites show that adolescent mothers have a higher incidence of pre-maturity, complicated labour, low birth weight, and low milk secretion [Delisle et al 2000], and infants of mothers aged younger than 18 years have a 60 per cent greater chance of dying in the first year of life than those of mothers aged 19 years or older [UNICEF 2007]. In the state of Rajasthan, the vulnerability of adolescent girls exceeds that in many other parts of India because of the strong social pressures for the early marriage of girls, the preference for home-based childbirth, and the gaps in health services in the more isolated rural areas. In the state, the prevalence of early marriage is 57.1 per cent (65.7 per cent in rural areas) (NFHS-3 2005-06) and the median age at effective marriage for girls is 15 years (Department of Family Welfare, Government of Rajasthan 1999). Gender DiscriminationGender discrimination is pervasive and markedly undermines adolescent girls’ education, nutrition and health. Data indicate an obvious gender bias in the education sector: two-thirds of boys aged 11-14 years are enrolled in schools, compared with Adolescent girls have considerable unmet needs in health, reproductive health, and nutrition. A survey in Rajasthan sought to ascertain the extent to which unmarried adolescent girls receive care and support from their parents. Study findings suggest that a majority of them received a high or medium level of care. There was no clear pattern by socio-economic status. In a context where gender discrimination is rife, some families, regardless of their economic circumstances, do seem to provide nutrition, health, and psychosocial care for their adolescent daughters.
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly november 3, 200755less than half of girls in that age group. The dropout rate for girls in secondary school is 72 per cent (Department of Educa-tion, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India 1999). In Rajasthan, school enrolment figures indicate that whereas 56.6 per cent of boys aged 6-14 years are in school, the value among girls is 43.4 per cent [Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan 2005]. The regional World Health Organisation Consultation has re-ported that the prevalence of “stunting” is more than twice as great among girls (45 per cent) as among boys (20 per cent) [Anand et al 1999]. A study on household dietary intake showed that nationally, nutritional equity between males and females is poorer in north India and in Rajasthan; all children under 12 years and adult women were deprived of their fair nutritional share relative to adult males and recommended daily allowances [Chatterjee et al 1984]. A more recent study in northern India again indicated a substantial caloric gap from the recommended dietary allowances and persistence of gender discrimination with respect to dietary practices in the low socio-economic strata [Srivastava et al 1997].A study of school-going adolescents in Mumbai found haemo-globin values to be less than 8 gm (indicative of severe anae-mia) in 16 per cent of girls and only 2 per cent of boys [Joshi et al 2005], but a study conducted in 1994 in rural Rajasthan among girls aged 10-18 years recorded a much higher prevalence of anaemia – 73.7 per cent [Rajaratnam et al 2000]. Data spe-cific to adolescent health in Rajasthan are not readily available. However, one gender differential in health is evident from the significantly higher proportion of women than men in the state who have had symp-toms of reproductive tract infections/sexu-ally transmitted infections (46.4 vs 17 per cent) coupled with the significantly lower proportion of women who have sought treatment for them (21.2 vs 47.3 per cent) [Government of Rajasthan 2003]. Taken together, these facts make a com-pelling case to delay early marriage, prevent adolescent preg-nancy, and address gender discrimination. Addressing the needs of adolescent girls is important not only because of the girls’ age, but also because their health and nutritional status markedly influence the health outcomes of their children. In recent years, the government of Rajasthan has introduced eco-nomic incentives intended to support girls’ education and healthcare, and motivate postponement of marriage and child-bearing [Mensch et al 1999]. But these programmes have had limited success, particularly in delaying the age at marriage of adolescent girls. Our ability to address these larger issues is in part limited by our lack of knowledge of the context in which they occur at the community level, particularly in the early adolescent years that precede marriage and childbearing. We have almost no knowledge of the type and extent of care and support girls receive from their parents in this period of their lives. This paper presents findings of a qualitative study undertaken in Rajasthan, which was part of a larger qualita-tive study on nutrition and gender undertaken in three sites, two in India (Maharashtra and Rajasthan) and one in Bangla-desh. The objective of this analysis was to ascertain whether and the extent to which unmarried adolescent girls receivecare and support from their parents. 1 Study MethodRajasthan was selected as a study site because early marriage remains widely prevalent in the state and health statistics and services are much worse than those in other parts of India. This study was carried out in Udaipur district, a less developed district in southern Rajasthan. Two blocks were selected: a rural block (population, 15,862) and a peri-urban block (population, 16,365). The latter had better access to health and other services, the main reason for selecting two distinct blocks. The rural block consisted of several villages inhabited mainly by tribal families; many of the participants there were from the Meena tribe. The qualitative methods used included in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, narrative scenarios (participatory group exercises using unfinished stories), and key informant inter-views (Table 1). Analyses for this paper were based mainly on the data collected from unmarried adolescent girls and parents of such girls. The key informants included health providers, non-governmental organisation (NGO) activ-ists, and community leaders. Checklists used to collect data were developed collaboratively by the research partners and translatedinto Hindi, the commonly understood and used language in the area. The research team consisted of six trained female interviewers, twofemale supervisors, and two male field coordina-tors. Researchers collected data from study participants of the same sex. Oppor-tunistic and purposive sampling was used to identify participants. In-depth interviews and focus groups were conducted in sepa-rate villages, as were men’s and women’s focus groups. Each participant was included in the data collec-tion only once and only for one method (ie, focus group or in-depth interview), and each was from a separate household.Access to the study participants was obtained through a local NGO, Adarsh Shiksha Samiti. The study started in August 2004 and the fieldwork was completed in eight months. The data col-lection began with key informant interviews as the research team was new and not known by the study communities. Focus group discussions and in-depth interviews followed. Narrative scenarios were conducted last. Oral informed consent was obtained from all study participants. To the greatest extent possible, interviews and focus group discussions were tape-recorded once consent was obtained; when participants did not consent, tape-recording was not performed as this could have jeopardised overalldata collection. The research team also encountered other challeng-es: language difficulties arose as the participants spoke a mix of Marwari, Mewari, and Gujarati; access to adolescentgirlswas Table 1: Study Methods and ParticipantsMethod and Participants Peri-urban Rural In-depth Interviews Unmarried adolescent girls 10 11 Total 21Focus Group Discussions Unmarried adolescent girls 2 2 Mothers of unmarried adolescent girls 3 3 Fathers of unmarried adolescent girls 2 2 Total 14Narrative Scenarios Unmarried adolescent girls 1 1 Mothers of unmarried adolescent girls 2 2 Fathers of unmarried adolescent girls 1 1 Total 8Key Informant Interviews Keyinformants 4 4 Total 8
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESnovember 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly56sometimes difficult because of the conservative nature of the communities; checklists for the interviews were toolong,parti-cularly as the in-depth interviews had to be completed in single sessions; some participants had difficulties comprehending some questions, particularly on family relationships; and obtain-ing full privacy for the interviews often proved difficult.Data was collected every alternate day. At the end of each day, field notes were transcribed in Hindi and scrutinised by the supervisors for deficiencies and inconsistencies. Any gaps were filled in by revisiting participants. The final handwritten transcripts in Hindi were translated into English and entered into a computer in Microsoft Word. Codes were defined and a code list was finalised at a workshop in Mumbai by the research partners. The data were coded using Atlas.ti and analysed. Two coders coded a random sub sample of the transcripts (10 per cent) to ensure rea-sonably consistent use of the code list.To assess variation in the experiences of adolescent girls, we developed a care and support index based on three dimen-sions: dietary care, healthcare, and emo-tional support. Through an initial analy-sis of the in-depth interviews, we identi-fied girls who appeared to be advantaged and others who appeared to be deprived or neglected in terms of each dimension. These ratings or judgments were based on items on our interview checklists. For each dimension, we developed a three-point scale considering selected indica-tors, and established high, medium, and low composite scores (Table 2). Finally, for each girl, we added the scores for the three individual dimen-sions to obtain a total/overall score for care and support. That score was then also categorised as high (7-9), medium (4-6), or low (≤3). In the final analysis, the high and medium categories were combined as a majority of girls received some degree of care and support in terms of both the individual dimensions and total care and support. The adolescent girls’ education level was classified as none, primary, secondary, or higher secondary or more. The socio-economic status of each girl’s family was assessed based on three indicators: type of house, household possessions, and food sufficiency; a three-point scale was developed and each girl’s family was classified as high, medium, or low.2 ResultsThe social and demographic profile of the 21 unmarried adoles-cent girls interviewed is shown in Table 3. Overall, slightly more than half of the girls were aged 14 years or younger (age range: 12 to 19 years), and the majority had a secondary education. The girls were evenly distributed across the three socioeconomic stra-ta as a whole.Care and Support Index: The distribution of the 21 unmarried adolescent girls interviewed according to the care and support index is shown in Table 4. A range of variation was evident in the data, but a majority of girls received care and support in terms of both the individual dimensions and total care and support. The high end of our index (high total score) is exemplified by Akanksha, a 16-year-old, ninth-class student: “My par-ents have brought me up with lots of love…. My father gets me whatever I want. My family makes sure that I take care of myself and eat properly. If on any day, I eat less, my mother gets concerned and keeps asking why am I not eating? Am I feeling ill and so on? And if I really am ill, my family gets really concerned and ensures that I get treatment and re-cover as soon as possible. If I want to eat something special, I tell my mother. My mother is always nagging me to eat more. If I feel weak, the doctor prescribes tonics for strength. Though I have al-ways been plump, I am still encouraged to have more milk, buttermilk, ghee, etc. I have full freedom to go out with my mother’s permission and have to return home before it gets dark.”At the other end of the spectrum (low total score) was Poonam, a 19-year-old with an eighth standard education who has her own beauty parlour: “… I do not have good relations with my family (‘jy-ada banti nahi hai’). After me, my mother gave birth to six daughters and so I am considered unlucky (‘apshukani aur bina bhagya ki’) for my parents. If I want to go somewhere, my parents do not allow. Food of my choice (‘meri pasand’)isnever cooked. If I ask for or say something, my father beats me up. I am not healthy and always fall sick. My parents always say that you are weak and perennially sick (‘kamjor hai aur hamesha bimar rahti hai’).”Twelve-year-old, eighth-class student Manisha belonged to the medium category: “I am close to my mother and can talk freely with her, but she does differentiate between my brother and me. She always makes me do housework. She does not differentiate between us as far as food is concerned. … when I want to eat some food which I like most, I get it and in sufficient amount …. In fact she always encourages me to eat well … About seven months ago I had chicken pox. I told my mother, but my father was not at home. So, I had to bear the pain and discomfort the whole night. In the morning, my uneasiness increased. I told my Table 3: Profile of Unmarried Adolescent Girls InterviewedIndicator Peri-urbanRural Age ≤14 74 15-17 0 6 18-19 3 1Education None 0 1 Primary 0 2 Secondary 8 6 Higher secondary or more 2 2Socio-economic status High 5 2 Medium 3 4 Low 2 5Table 4: Distribution by Care and Support Composite Care and Support IndexDimension High-Medium*Low Dietary care 14 7Healthcare 129Emotional support 14 7Total Care and Support 16 5* For healthcare, four girls received highcare and eight received medium care. For both dietary care and emotional support, the distribution was equal (seven in high, seven in medium). For total care and support, seven girls received high care, nine received medium care.Table 2: Composite Care and Support IndexDimension/Indicator ScoreCompositeScore HighMediumLowDietary Care As much food as she wants 1 Food of her liking 1 3 2 0-1 Served when she wants 1 Healthcare Preventive care/special diet 1 Immediate attention to health complaints 1 3 2 0-1 Treatment from health service providers 1 Emotional Support Can talk freely with some family member 1 Special attention to demands/requirements 1 3 2 0-1 Nodiscrimination 1
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly november 3, 200757mother, but we did not go to the hospital because it is very far. In the afternoon whenmy father came home, he took me to the hospital for the treatment. In these matters he makes the decision, my opinion doesn’t count.”Care and Support DimensionsWe further analysed the data to better understand the individual variations that could explain the highs and lows for each dimension. (i) Dietary Care: In the case of dietary care, most girls men-tioned that the family was vegetarian and that there never was any shortage of food, however poor the family. A few mentioned a shortage of cooked food, but in the context of unannounced guests or incorrect estimates of food requirements. In such situa-tions, either more food was cooked or the mother ate less. None of the girls mentioned ever having to settle for less food. Differ-ences in dietary care were more in the context of food preferences and access. The following quotes illustrate some of the variations.Eighteen-year-old Ratna, a second year BA student from the peri-urban block who had a high dietary care score, said: “My mother asks family members about what she should cook that day. …Lunch is as per my choice. First, my brother and I have lunch, then my parents. But dinner we all have together. I get as much food as I want and also what I want to eat. I do not remem-ber a single day when food was not available in our home. We al-ways have two or three rotis extra at every meal. My parents also insist on my drinking Bournvita and milk for good health. In win-ter, I am made to have nutritious ‘laddus’ with ghee, cashew nut, almond, and coconut powder. My mother says that these are a must for maintaining good health.”Omi, a 14-year-old girl from the rural block with a second standard education, was in the medium dietary care category and said: “In my house, generally my mother serves food. I always eat when I want and until I am full. There is no differen-tiation between the boys and girls over food intake. There is no shortage of food at home, but if we have unexpected visitors at mealtime, we do run short of cooked food and my mother has to prepare some more. If I wish to eat something available in the shop, my mother tries to buy it for me. But this wish to buy and eat foodstuff is often not satisfied as we do not have enough money to spare.” Radha, a 13-year-old with an eighth standard education from the peri-urban block who had a low dietary care rating, described the situation at her home: “We cook only vegetarian food at home, and it is not made according to any members’ choice. We cook whatever is available at home (‘jo ghar me hota he vahi khana ban ta hai’). … We sometimes face food shortage at home, maybe two or three times in a year. That too shortage of cooked food during meals. At such times, my mother cooks food again. Though I mostly get as much food as I want, I do not get what I want because our economic condition is not good. For the same reason, my family is not able to take special care for my growth.” (ii) Healthcare:During the interviews, we asked the girls to rate family members according to the importance of their health. Almost all girls mentioned that their parents’ health was critical for the well-being of the household. The father’s health was the highest priority because he was the main breadwinner. The mother’s health was also critical because she was vital for smooth running of the household. The children’s health came last, but almost all girls, with one exception, said that there was no dis-crimination in receiving immediate attention for any health com-plaints or seeking treatment from health providers. Savita, a 14-year-old girl with a ninth standard education from the rural area, belonged to the high healthcare category. She said: “My health has always been good. … My health is very important to my family. The last time I was unwell was three months back. … I immediately told my mother, who told my father. My father there and then decided that I needed treatment. He took me to a privatepractitioner by Jeep. We got there in half an hour. I was madetotake all the prescribed medicines. The timely treatment helped cure my problem quickly. My family took as much care in seeing that I took the medicines as they took in taking me to the doctor. No special care is taken for my growth and development. I eat what everyone in the house eats. Maybe a little extra intake of ghee is given, but that’s it.”Eighteen-year-old college student Hemal lived in the peri-urban block and fell in the medium healthcare category. She said: “I do not have any illness, so I feel I am healthy. My family also feels the same. A few days ago, I had fever. I told my mother as she is always available at home. My mother sent my brother to tell my father. My father got medicine from the hospital, and I took that medicine. I was not taken to any hospital, and I do not know where my father got the medicine from. He made the decision about what treatment would be appropriate for me. When I had fever, my mother did not give me any housework to do. I took rest.”Poonam, a 19-year-old girl from the peri-urban block with an eighth standard education, had a low score for healthcare. She said: “In my family, my father’s and my third number sister’s health is very important because father is the only earning member of the family (‘kamake sab ko khilate he’) and everyone loves Nilam most. My health is of no interest to anyone in the family because no one needs me (‘meri kisi ko jarurat nahi hai’). I am not healthy because I always fall sick. I do not eat well, and with a little work I am tired and start feeling giddy (‘jara se kaam se thak jati hoon, chakkar aane lagte hai’). Two weeks ago, I had giddiness but no one paid any attention. I on my own went to the government hospital. The doctor prescribed medicines. My parents did not provide the medicines after first 10 days.”(iii) Emotional Support: To assess emotional support, we asked girls about their freedom to confide in a family member on any issue of concern, whether their demands and requests were met, and if they were discriminated against. The following quotations illustrate these three indicators.Pushpa, who is 18 years old and failed the tenth standard, is from a poor household in the rural block and the youngest of seven siblings. She said: “I have a good relationship with my fa-ther. He encourages me to continue my education and reappear for my class ten exam. Hewants me to become a teacher or a sis-teratthehospital. He believes that I am capable of teaching
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly november 3, 200759During the narrative scenarios, adolescent girls giggled a lot while discussing mobility restrictions. They ridiculed parents’ paranoia (‘dahshat’), saying: “Parents always fear that the daughter will make a mistake (‘paon galat pad jayega’) if she is given full freedom to go out. She will run away with a boy from other caste. There will be all kinds of rumours in the community.”Girls’ ViewsDuring the focus group discussions, girls in the rural area were even more vocal on the issue of restrictions:R4: There are differences in the freedom to go out available to girls and boys. Girls have more restrictions and need permission for every little thing (‘chhoti chhoti baatein’). R7: Yes. Today girls and boys are equal in all fields. Girls are capa-ble of doing things that boys do, then why these restrictions only for girls?R6 and R7: Boys are free to go anywhere. They are not restricted.R7: Girls are advised by parents not to go some places or not to talk to some people. R9: Girls are not allowed to go out and have to wear only salwar suit and not jeans.R7: People think that there must be some reason when a girl goes out and they take it negatively (‘galat samajhate hain’). R9: There are some girls like “that” (‘aisi hoti hain’) due to which all are restricted from going out.R8: No. People think in this manner only.R5: If a girl goes out even once, they think that this girl roams a lot in the village.R6 and R7: They say that this girl has a loose character (‘chaal chalan kharaab hain’).R8: Some girls themselves are really interested in speaking to boys. (girls started laughing)R7, R8, and R9: We feel bad about it because they do not trust us.R7: More than family members, the outsiders have more prob-lems in our going out, so the family should have full trust in us.R8: After marriage, we usually get more freedom. Even now we should get some freedom.R9: Yes.R7: We should at least be allowed to visit our female friends.R6: Yes, we are not even allowed to go to our friend’s house.Sonu, a 17-year-old from the peri-urban block with an eighth standard education, explained the reasons for restrictions: “Village has school up to eighth standard only. If one wants to study further, one has to go to the other village, and enroute to that school eveteasers are there. I therefore discontinued my studies (‘aur us gav ke raste me ladke chedchad karte the ish liye padhaichod di’).”During focus group discussions on gender, fathers from the peri-urban area confirmed their “extreme apprehension” or fear (‘dahshat’) about adolescent daughters’ security and reputation and the justification for discrimination:R1: Yes, the difference is there. A boy is always looked after well and given more education and freedom than a girl.R4: There is also a big problem of social security (‘samajik suraksha’) if one wants to send girls to school to another village.Because of issues like social security, many families don’t send girls for higher education, whereas such problem doesn’t exist for boys; they can move alone whenever they want.R3: Yes.R2: A girl is always afraid when she goes alone, but a boy can go alone without any fear. A girl has a fear of rape, etc.R4: It is all because of the social security (‘samajik suraksha’).R3: As long as the girl is a child, her parents send her out alone, but when she comes to the age, parents have fear of social blame (‘pratadana’), that she may get harassed by youths. It is because of the social fear (‘samajik dar’) parents don’t send their young daughters out of the home alone.R3: It is usually after the age of 16 years. R2: After this age, restrictions are placed on girls, and these re-strictions are placed thinking in mind that the girl should not get exploited (‘shoshan’). R2: A father always has a fear (‘dahshat’) that daughter is a property of someone else and that he has to hand it over, that if her character gets spoiled she would have problems in the future, she will not get into a good family. Her family will get disturbed, her life will get ruined. Because of all these dangers a father always keeps control over the daughter so that she does not get exploited. Half of the fathers in focus group discussions in the rural areasaid that there is no active discrimination against their daughters, but also added that only needs and demands per-ceived as “genuine” (‘asli’) by the parents are met. Interestingly, in the same block in another focus group discussion specifically on gender issues wherein the discussion was guided by more pointed questions on gender-related discrimination, half the fa-thers described and justified discrimination against daughters, particularly in education, mobility, and decision-making. They said that daughters belonged to other families (‘paraya dhan’) and were not likely to support them in old age. Also, the cultural ethos of the male-dominated society meant that men and women were treated differently.3 Care and Support FactorsWe evaluated three factors that may potentially be related to parents’ care and support of unmarried adolescent girls: socio-economic status, residence, and education.An overview of the interviewed adolescent girls by their socio-economic status and the various dimensions of care and support showed no clear pattern (Table 5, p 60). Most girls appeared to receive a high to medium degree of care and support from their parents along the dimensions studied. More girls in the rural block than in the peri-urban block appeared to get care and support overall and for each dimension (Table 6, p 60), a finding that may be related to castes. In the peri-urban block, the interviewed girls were from scheduled and other backward castes, whereas in the rural block, they were from the Meena ethnic group, a scheduled tribe. Girls with more education also most often received better care at home overall and for each dimension (Table 7, p 60), once again perhaps indicating that both the household atmosphere and
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESnovember 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly60family values indicate how parents will care for, support, and provide for their daughters.4 CurrentTrends In the focus groups, the general opinions of both mothers and fa-thers pointed to their perceptions of changes, whereby they felt discrimination against girls was a thing of past. Mothers in the rural block said the fol-lowing: R1: Situation is changing in big cities and towns. R2: Yes. Nowadays everything has changed.R4: Girls do go for higher education, and since all villages do not havethesefacilities, they have to go to neighbouring cities or towns. R7: In our village, there are only two schools till 10th class. So if any boy or girl wants to do higher secondary, they have to go to the town. R4: There are such children and parents who do allow even daughters to go for further studies. These girls are sent by auto rick-shaws of known drivers. R6: We do not allow daughters to go for higher studies. R8: Why should we allow her to go for higher studies? In future, she is going to get mar-ried and do household work for which no education is required. On the other hand, fathers, while ac-knowledging the changing practices and attitudes, talked about constraints such as the economic condition of the household and the lack of facilities: “Change is seen nowadays. Though parents do not want to discriminate, still a boy is given more at-tention. The main reason for it is that those families that are poor will send the boy to school, but the girl is kept home to look af-ter the goats. If she doesn’t look after the goats, the economic condition of the family worsens. Also, if one wants to educate girls, there are no facilities here to do so. There is also a big problem of social security (‘sama-jik suraksha’) if one wants to send girls to school to another village.”Mothers corroborated this and said that today, parents do not hesitate to send girls if they want to go for higher education, but also that many girls themselves do not want to get educated. During narrative scenarios, most fathers talked about the ways in which practices and thinking are changing. The scenario discussed Laxmi, a 12-year-old girl whose elder sister married at a young age and who herself has attained puberty, but wants to study further and become a teacher: “Yes, there are bound to be differences in the way parents bring up and behave with their sons and daughters. Sons live with parents forever, not the daughter. If she is educated and gets a job, what she earns later goes to her husband’s family. This was the earlier thinking. But now, literate parents think other way. They educate their daughters, so that daughters are at par with sons. Also, nowadays, no-body wants to marry an illiterate girl, said a father from the peri-urban block.” Another father added: “Nowadays, a girl is looked after better than a boy. People have realised that a daughter has more emotional attachment with her parents than a son. When a father is having a prob-lem, a daughter visits her maternal home to take care of the father, but a son will not even look at him. After marriage, the son immediately starts looking for a separate house to live in with his wife, it is happen-ing in our village also.” There were disgruntled voices too. One father talked about the restrictions and “undesirable” changes: “Once the daugh-ter turns 16 years, she is “watched” a lot (‘nazar rakhte hain’). In the olden days,the children would stay under their parents’ shadows. But today, times are changing. People are educated and aware of the fash-ion. They imitate whatever they see. They do all nonsense (‘bakwas’).”He was countered by another father who said that this is not the general trend: “The society is changing, and some familiesdo allow the daughter to go out. As long as the daughter is accompanied by someone, some mothers have no objection. Present condition of the society is very bad and corrupting. The situation is very danger-ous for young girls. So we do not allow our daughter to go alone, that’s all (‘akele na-hin jaane dete bas’).” Most participants agreed some leniency has now crept in because of practical con-siderations, such as girls going to work or school, but felt long-standing customs and traditions need to be respected. Fathers from the peri-urban block, while acknowledging the trend, clarified that ar-ranged marriages predominate and girls seldom have any say in the matter: “Even now in some communities, a girl and a boy are not even allowed to see and meet each other before marriage. Some literate families allow a boy and a girl to meet and discuss things before marriage. It is only among the 10 per cent of the families in the village that things are a bit relaxed, elseamong Table 5: Care and Support by Socio-economic Status Socio-economicStatus High-MediumLowTotalTotal Care and Support High-medium 12 4 16 Low 2 3 5 Total 14 7 21Dietary Care High-medium 10 4 14 Low 4 3 7 Total 14 7 21Healthcare High-medium 10 2 12 Low 4 5 9 Total 14 7 21Emotional Support High-medium 10 4 14 Low 4 3 7 Total 14 7 21Table 6: Care and Support by Residence Peri-urbanRuralTotalTotal Care and Support High-medium 6 10 16 Low 4 1 5 Total 10 11 21Dietary Care High-medium 5 9 14 Low 5 2 7 Total 10 11 21Healthcare High-medium 4 8 12 Low 6 3 9 Total 10 11 21Emotional Support High-medium 6 8 14 Low 4 3 7 Total 10 11 21Table 7: Care and Support by Education None/SecondaryTotal PrimaryorMore* Total Care and Support High-medium 2 14 16 Low 1 4 5 Total 3 18 21Dietary Care High-medium 2 12 14 Low 1 6 7 Total 3 18 21Healthcare High-medium 1 11 12 Low 2 7 9 Total 3 18 21Emotional Support High-medium 0 14 14 Low 3 4 7 Total 3 18 21* Only four girls had higher secondary or more education; most completed only some secondary.
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly november 3, 200761others it is still the father and mother of a girl who selects abride-groom for their daughter and the daughter has to accept it. We also feel that it is now becoming very necessary that a boy and a girl who are going to get married be allowed to meet before mar-riage so that both can understand each other. If not and if they dislike each other, then in future such marriages may result in divorce.”Mothers of adolescent girls in the rural block also talked about the trends in marriages:R1: In our community, girls get married at the latest by the age of18. Earlier during their times, most were married by the age of 10 years. R1, R2, and R4: Eighteen years is the right age for marriage for a girl. R5: There are organisations (‘sanstha’) that say that one should educate daughters till 10th class and that the daughters should be married only after they have completed 10 or 12 years of school. R1and R4: We agree with this advice. R2: If a girl gets married at a younger age, her health is affected and she becomes very weak. If she gets married at or after 18, she is healthier and delivers a healthy child. Most adolescent girls mentioned that the decision is usually that of parents, but a few indicated the changing scenario as seen in the two focus group discussions on gender in the two blocks. To quote girls in the rural block:R5: In our community (Meena), they take our view during mar-riage (‘hamara vichaar puchte hain’).R6: Yes. They take suggestion but finally they decide.R4: In communities like the rajputs, they do not even ask.R5: In our community nowadays, some girls even participate in marriage discussions.R6: We do not see the dowry but see the family (‘dahej nahi dekhte, parivar dekhte hain’).Girls in the peri-urban block expressed similar views:R7: If we do not like the boy with whom the engagement has tak-en place, we cannot express our opinion. If we oppose, family would think we like someone else.R8: Things have changed. In some families, girls do reject the boys, but in very few cases.One group in the peri-urban block talked about a girl who re-fused to marry the boy the day before the marriage as she did not like him: “Girls are becoming aware of their rights to parents’ property and money and therefore have started to voice their views openly.” In an interview, the head of a local NGO explained the reasons for this change: “Girls are getting empowered. In the previous generation, women never talked in front of men; now girls and women talk in front of men at public place. A few decades back, women were not even allowed to talk with men and had to take their ‘chappal’ (footwear) in their hands while walking besides men so as not to make any noise. But now, the situation has changed and women are coming forward and rais-ing their issues in the village meetings. More girls are going to schools as compared to the situation 10 years back. Even so, not many girls are going for study above primary or 10th standard. It depends on the economic status of the families. But then, not many boys are highly educated either as they also leave the school as they have to share the family responsibilities with their parents.”Fathers agreed with these views. The views of several fathers across both blocks are reflected in one father’s statement: “Dis-crimination used to happen earlier. Nowadays, there is no dif-ference between a girl and a boy. Earlier, the men would eat, then the boys, and finally the women, but today, there is noth-ing like that. If at all some differences exist, these are in fami-lies where parents are illiterate. We believe that girls are now in a better situation. Earlier, a girl used to get married and go to her in-laws’ house before she started her period; otherwise, it was considered as a sin (‘ham sochte the ki agar ladki ki maahwaari mata-pita ke ghar me shuru ho to mata-pita paap ke bhagi hote hain’). Not any more. Now even we don’t allow child marriages. In some communities there is a change, while in some such as tribals and others, child marriages do occur. Ear-lier, girls could not go out unless they had bare feet and a veiled face (ghunghat). Now times have changed and these restric-tions have vanished.”However, these views were not unchallenged. In the rural block, one group of men was scathing in their remarks about the current trend, blaming it all on soap operas onTV. As one of them put it, “Girls have become brazen now. They do not observe the veil (ghoonghat) system. Today, if you go to teach a child some good values, it takes hours, but they learn to smoke bidis in seconds. All because of the TV influence.” Two fathers mentioned that they felt that there was more need for control now as com-pared with earlier times. 5 ConclusionsThe majority of the unmarried adolescent girls in our study ap-peared to receive care and support from their parents, both in general and specifically in terms of diet, health, and emotional care. Girls appeared to be cared for and supported regardless of their families’ socio-economic background. However, rural girls fared better than their peri-urban counterparts, as did more educated girls relative to their less educated counterparts. These patterns suggest that care and support are likely to be related to the household environment and that where girls are more educated, the family may value their daughters more overall or vice versa. In terms of trends, education for girls is increasingly viewed positively; at an underlying level, this may imply a shift in how families value girls. The trend in marriage appears to be that par-ents acknowledge early marriage as harmful and some feel it is less common now. Also, although arranged marriages continue to predominate, some parents increasingly felt that some girls now have more say in marriage. We noted a range of perceptions on the extent to which gender discrimination prevails. Many informants felt that it was a thing of the past, whereas others felt it was still an issue. Parents also perceived changes in girls’ behaviours overall, which were positive in some instances while negative in others. The findings presented here are surprising because much of the current literature on gender discrimination in South Asia
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESnovember 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly62strongly suggests that overt and subtle neglect of girls is com-mon. These results challenge those views and suggest that the extent of care for adolescent girls varies. Particularly because gender discrimination is extremely prevalent in Rajasthan, these findings provide hope that such discrimination can be reduced even in the most challenging circumstances. The greater care and support that girls in the rural area received most likely re-sults from their Meena ethnicity. There is virtually no literature on how progressive that tribe is, and we do not know the extent to which those traditional features of Meena culture are still practised in the rural block, but some of them still affect attitudes and behaviours with regard to adolescent girls. In other literature, data on other tribes of India suggest that many tribal communities have progressive values that empower women and girls. Moreo-ver, residents in the rural block and key informants noted that local royalty of an earlier era promoted social development, which they believe continues to carry benefits for the local com-munity today. Therefore, the degree of care and support seen in this study could be attributed in part to these values. For this same reason, our findings may not broadly apply to other com-munities where girls may be less valued. Of note, however, many girls in the peri-urban block, though fewer than in the rural block, also received care and support from their parents. Another likely reason for the difference between blocks is that livelihoods in the peri-urban block may be more insecure, as in urban centres, and this may be reflected in the marginal difference in care girls receive. The implications of these findings, based on a small purposive sample, are that the nature and extent of care for unmarried adolescent girls vary at the community level. This variation presents an opportunity to develop targeted interventions to address the needs of this group in terms of health, nutrition, and psychosocial care. Programmes that provide health and nutrition services more broadly can be tailored to meet the needs of un-married adolescent girls, and life-skill programmes for this group provide an opportunity to equip them with valuable skills for their future lives. Our results suggest that if these services were made available, some parents would consider using them for their daughters. Email: frhs.ahmedabad@gmail.comReferencesAnand K, S Kant and S K Kapoor (1999): ‘Nutritional Status of Adolescent School Children in Rural North India’, available at, Meera and Julian Lambert (1984): ‘Women and Nutrition: Reflections from India and Pakistan’, available at Accessed August 16, 2007.Delisle, Hélène, Venkatraman Chandra-Mouli and Bruno de Benoist (2000): ‘Should Adolescents Be Specifically Targeted for Nutrition In Developing Countries? To Address Which Problems, and How?’, World Health Organisation, Geneva.Government of Rajasthan (2003): ‘Project Document for Reducing Vulnerabilities of Young Women to STI/HIV/AIDS’, District Strategic Plan – Udaipur, Department of Health and Family Welfare Medical (GroupV) Department, Rajasthan.Jejeebhoy,Shireen(2000):‘Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Behaviour: A Review of the Evidence from India’ in R Ramasubban and S Jejeebhoy (eds),Women’s Repro-ductive Health in India, Rawat Publications, Jaipur, pp 40-101.Joshi, Beena, Chauhan Sanjay, Tryambake Varsha and Gaikwad Neelawanti (2005): ‘Gen-der and Socio-economic Differentials of Adolescent Health’, presentation made at Forum 9, Mumbai, September 12-16.Mehra, Sunil and Agrawal Deepti (2004): ‘Adolescent Health Determinants for Pregnancy and Child Health Outcomes among the Urban Poor’,Indian Paediatrics, Vol 41, pp 137-45. Mensch, Barbara S, Judith Bruce and Margaret E Greene (1999):The Uncharted Passage: Girls’ Adolescence in the Developing World, Population Council, New York.Rajaratnam, Jolly, Abel Rajaratnam, J S Asokan and Paul Jonathan (2000): ‘Prevalence of Anaemia among Adolescent Girls of Rural Tamil Nadu’,Indian Paediatrics, Vol 37, pp 532-36.Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India (2001): Census of India (2001), avail-able at Shiksha Abhiyan (2005): ‘Rajasthan State Report: Third Joint Review Mission of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and 22nd JRM of District Primary Education Programme’, January 12-24, Aide Memorie.Srivastava, S P, Anjani Kumar, Lalan Kumar Bharati and Vijay Shrama Kumar (1997): ‘Dietary Practices and Beliefs in Adolescent Girls’, Indian Paediatrics, Vol 34, pp 726-31, August.UNICEF (2007): ‘Gender Discrimination across the Life Cycle’ inThe State of the World’s Children 2007 – Women and Children: The Double Dividend of Gender Equality, pp 4-5, available at TRUST BOOKSInclusive GrowthK N Raj on Economic DevelopmentEssays from The Economic Weekly and Economic & Political WeeklyEdited by ASHOKA MODYThe essays in the book reflect Professor K N Raj’s abiding interest in economic growth as a fundamental mechanism for lifting the poor and disadvantaged out of poverty. He has also been concerned that the political bargaining process may end up undermining growth and not provide support to those who were excluded from access to economic opportunities. These essays, many of them classics and all published in Economic Weekly and Economic & Political Weekly, are drawn together in this volume both for their commentary on the last half century of economic development and for their contemporary relevance for understanding the political economy of development in India and elsewhere.Pp viii + 338 ISBN 81-250-3045-X 2006 Rs 350Available fromOrient Longman LtdMumbai Chennai New Delhi Kolkata Bangalore Bhubaneshwar Ernakulam Guwahati Jaipur Lucknow Patna Chandigarh Hyderabad Contact:

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