Free but Fearful

This Independence Day Mehru Jaffer finds out why fear rules the life of so many youngsters, particularly women

On the eve of yet another indepen- dence day, 18 year old Anita (name changed) is full of fear, uncertainty and shame. She agrees to be photographed but does not want her picture to be printed. She agrees to talk about her dreams and aspirations but is afraid and ashamed to share her real name and details of her life with others.

Her only hope is to work hard, earn money and wait to be married.

“If you publish my photograph and actual name I may not get a marriage proposal,” fears this young woman who came to Lucknow a year ago from a village in district Barabanki to earn a living. She feels that once married all her woes will end.

Anita is one amongst those between the ages of 15 and 24 who qualify as youth. India is home to an estimated 358 million people in the age group of 10 years and 24 years. According to the 2011 Census, this group makes for 31 percent of the country’s population.

Out of seven billion people globally, the population of youth is 18 percent of which 87 percent like Anita reside in developing countries.

Anita’s father owns about a bigha of land in the village but he was unable to make ends meet by tilling the land. The illiterate farmer learnt plumbing while still in the village. When even that skill did little to increase the family income, he came to Lucknow. Here the only job that he could find was that of a mazdoor and he is paid daily wages when he does find work.

In Lucknow

Soon Anita and her little brother joined the father in the city while the mother stayed behind in the village. Anita stopped going to school after class eight. She paid an NGO about Rs 200 to learn tailoring in Lucknow. Today she earns a living, sewing clothes. To support her brother in school, she even cleans and cooks for four different families. But none of this is known to her relatives in the village.

Back home it is presumed that the father works, the brother goes to school while Anita stays home to sew and to take care of their one room rented accommodation in a lower income neighbourhood of Gomti Nagar.

This hard working, young woman with a lovely smile says that she knows that India got freedom on 15 August from foreigners.

“I do feel happy on Independence Day but I do not celebrate it like Diwali and Holi,” she told The Lucknow Observer.

As an after thought, Anita wonders now that India is free when will Indians like her enjoy freedom from poverty?

The saddest part is that she does not know how to help herself and her family to improve her lot in life, apart from doing menial jobs. There are hundreds of families like Anita’s that are being forced to move out of traditional livelihoods like agriculture to flood cities like Lucknow and to increase the number of unemployed here.

Fifteen year old Vikas was brought to Lucknow as a toddler by his father who was on the verge of starvation in the countryside.

The father did all kinds of odd jobs to support his family of four before he found a job as a watchman in a Gomti Nagar pre school where Vikas and sister Jyoti were also able to study free of cost.

Vikas has moved on to higher studies and his ambition is to become a rich and famous crooner like his role model Sonu Nigam. Ten year old sister Jyoti says that she cannot make up her mind whether to take up dance as a career or to study engineering?

515 million youth

The UN Population Fund reports an estimated 515 million adolescents and youth aged 15 years to 24 years live on less than two dollars a day. Despite their overwhelming number, two out of three countries do not consult young people on key policy decisions that affect their lives.

Today young people are an important group to be reckoned with. Their sheer numbers suggest the attention required to address their needs and aspirations. The long held attitude that children should be seen and not heard does not hold true anymore. This massive group of humanity represents the future and its potential and experience determines the dividends any nation can reap. Investing in the well-being of adolescents and young people will surely benefit communities throughout the world.

Yet the young are under served and need more attention.

What is most disturbing is the insecurity faced, particularly by young women in contemporary society. Young women face high risks of forced sex. United Nations (UN) figures reveal that 10 percent of young girls who have had sex before the age of 16 years is due to coercion, leading to early and also unwanted pregnancies.

Globally, more than 15 million girls between 15 years and 19 years give birth every year. The UN says early marriages, early pregnancies and births account for the high percentage of maternal deaths in developing countries.

In addition, studies show more than two million adolescents between the age of 10 years and 19 years are living with.

Not safe

In developing countries girls are not safe, very often even in the family. Women are not safe on the street. They are not safe at school. Girls are not respected. They have no toilet and they are subjected to repeated violence against them.

UN officials are convinced that healthy, educated, productive young people can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and can contribute to their communities and nations. The officials advise governments to listen to young people, to respect them and to figure out how everyone can benefit from contributions made by the youth to the development of the nation.

But is the government listening? Is the government designing policies and programs taking into account the needs and demands of the youth and allocating resources for their well being?

It must not be forgotten that young people are a heterogeneous group. Some are marginalized. Some belong to tribal groups, a religious minority and from urban slums and rural areas. It is important to get it right for the young marginalized group as that is the majority population.

The immediate need is for information, education, enhancement of traditional skills, livelihood and services including health services worldwide but the approach to address these needs have to be customized to the context and realities of specific sub-groups.


The literacy rate among youth aged 15 years to 19 years is 88.8 percent according to the 2011 Census of India and 83 percent among youth aged 20 to 24 years. In the age group of 15 -19 years it is indicated that nearly 50 percent of girls and 40 percent boys drop out of formal schooling by age 15.

The number of school dropouts is higher among girls largely due to financial constraints, lack of teachers and schools in close proximity to their villages. In the age group of 20 – 24 years, there are only 12.9 percent female youth and 23.1 male youth attending educational institutions signifying that the majority are unable to access higher education due to financial constraints and have joined the workforce.

While the legal age of marriage is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys, data shows that 22.1 percent of girls married before 18 years and 23.4 percent of boys were married before the legal age of 21 years. Early pregnancies is a problem. The percentage of male youngster between the age of 15 years and 24 years who use tobacco is a problem. Young people’s lack of knowledge and awareness on contraception, HIV and safe practices is a problem.


Young people need a secure space both inside and outside the home with separate toilets for boys and girls. There are groups of young people who have told social activists that they want vocational studies, life skills and health and sex education.

There are young people who need access to accurate information and confidentiality with regard to safe sexual practices and affordable and confidential youth friendly healthcare services. Young people demand peer education programs that teach life skills that will help them negotiate relationships, make informed choices, reduce gender-based violence and increase access to youth-friendly health services.

Numerous data show that there is a difference in male and female work participation and also in the work participation rate among rural and urban youth. To ensure equitable growth and livelihoods, there is need to invest in business and life skills of young people and context-specific opportunities. Young people need opportunities for training and development including higher education.

They need information about government schemes and access to financial resources including loan facilities. There is a gap between availability of opportunities and ability of young people to fill those positions due to a focus only on hard skills of business without any focus on creating opportunities for young people to develop values, ethics and soft skills as active citizens.

Above all, young people lack platforms to access decision making at policy levels and their voices are absent in governance.

There is absence of effective youth-friendly grievance redressal mechanism for access to essential services of speedy and fair system of justice.

In various youth consultations held across the country by UN research teams, young people articulated the need for sensitisation of private media houses for social messaging on issues like child labour and early marriage, using SMS for providing information on social issues, orienting youth group on awareness and vigilance of underage marriages.

They demand the inclusion of religious leaders, family and community councils in all discussions. To bring voices of young people in governance, youth leaders are demanding at least 25 percent of seats for youth at all elected bodies, starting from local governance bodies. There is demand for a separate budget for youth across all policies, programs and legislations and creation of an international youth

commission to address youth concerns.

For young people, especially from marginalized groups, the demand is for availability and accessibility of free legal aid. Young people are demanding initiation and establishment of youth clubs across the country as safe and open space for fun and learning and capacity building for both boys and girls.

Full potential

The right investment is needed for today’s young people to reach their full potential as individuals, leaders and agents of progress. This is no favour to the young for the country clearly needs their energy, participation and skills. This transformation requires collective action and a commitment by all stakeholders to address the concerns and needs of the youth. Young people face many challenges today, especially in poor developing countries in Africa and Asia, where the young population is huge.

In Lucknow 12-year-old Saloni Singh’s mother is illiterate and from a Scheduled Caste. However Saloni has made it to class seven in an English medium school where she struggles to improve her language and skills in mathematics. She wants to be a police officer so that she can end all injustices in society? She also wants to make enough money in the future so that she can take care of her parents who are both under medical treatment.

Yet another Saloni from a middle class family finished schooling in Lucknow to find the job of a lifetime with an American bank in the US. Despite missing family, this Saloni may think twice about returning to India due to the day to day disadvantages faced here.

This Saloni is a touching example of how the country does not seem to care enough for its children, many of whom are forced to run away from home in search of a more comfortable life to other parts of the world.




International Youth Day (IYD) is the brainchild of the United Nations, and was first celebrated on 12th August 2000, after the UN General Assembly passed a resolution accepting the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth in Lisbon in 1998.

The UN uses celebrations like these to draw public awareness to problems surrounding a particular global demographic and, IYD focuses on the youth, their issues and their contributions. The UN offers resources like promotional material, ideas for events, training material through its subsidiary agencies as well as its website, for independent entities world over to celebrate the day.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said “Youth should be given a chance to take an active part in the decision-making of local, national and global levels.”

IYD focuses on the rights of these young people to have full access to education, adequate healthcare, employment opportunities, financial services and full participation in public life.

In a climate of economic uncertainty, it is all the more important for countries to invest in opportunities for their youth to learn, earn and grow so that the common future lies in good hands. In 1985, the World Program of Action for Youth was set up to define a policy framework and guidelines for national action and international support to improve the situation of young people.

It is just one of the many extensive efforts of the United Nations to help member states reach out to their youth. Along with ensuring their rights, an equally important goal of IYD is to shape the youth not just as a passive beneficiary of development efforts, but as a force for positive social change. They are a source of innovation, creativity, energy and foresight, and member states must use all means possible to foster and harness the power of the youth.

These are the ideals of IYD.

Rape After Rape…

The naming, shaming and punishment of rapists seems to have little effect.

In a rerun of the gruesome Nirbhaya incident that sparked outrage in Delhi, an incident of gang- rape and murder rocked Uttar Pradesh, exposing the lack of security and state government’s apathy towards women’s safety.

The autopsy report of the woman who was brutalized by yet unknown number of men showed that “blunt objects such as wooden stick were thrust into the vaginal and anal passages of the woman.”

A panel of six, including forensic experts and a female doctor, which examined the body, confirmed laceration in anal and vaginal areas. The panel also noted a total of 12 injuries, abrasions and contusions on the body with maximum injuries in lower abdomen. The attackers also seem to have dealt lathi blows on her face, chest, waist and legs.

A spurt in gang-rapes and crimes against women in the state has been a major cause of embarrassment for the Samajwadi Party government, led by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. In May, bodies of two minor Dalit sisters were found hanging from a tree in the Badaun district. The girls, who were cousins, were allegedly gang-raped, beaten and hanged.

The question is: Will this terrible chain of rape after rape ever stop?

Start typing and press Enter to search