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MAMTA Health Institute for Mother & Child | New Delhi

Young people face greater risks

Young people face greater risks than adults for many reasons, including their willingness to take greater risks in general, having unprotected sex, and a greater vulnerability to sexual pressure, coercion and exploitation. The weakening of social structures due to migration and changing family structures (nuclear families), has left young people with fewer resources and support systems to help them navigate the path to adulthood. At the same time, changing social values and a more permissible attitude towards ‘sex’ in urbanized societies puts pressure on the adolescents and young people to experiment, without being armed with sufficient information or skills.

Those young people who are forced to live on the social and economic margins of society have even less access to information, skills, services and support than other young people normally do.

Substance abuse like smoking and injecting drug use are few of the addictions that often begin during adolescence. Over the years there has been a rapid increase in the total number of people injecting drugs with a subsequent decrease in the age of the people injecting drugs. Drug dependency increases the cost of living and to meet both the ends, young people often indulge in various kinds of risky behaviours (such as prostitution) and crimes to finance their drug habit. Injecting drug use is one of the various factors contributing to HIV among young people. In turn, there is a fair chance of these people infecting their sexual partners, peers and thus the wider population.

As a matter of fact, commercial sex work and sexual abuse among young people is not uncommon.  Adolescents who are in this trade often lack proper information about how to protect themselves and their negotiating power to use condom is also very low, making them vulnerable. Most cases of coerced sex or sexual exploitation go unnoticed and unreported. Though both boys and girls are vulnerable to sexual violence, including abuse and exploitation, a greater number of girls and young women are victimized. Abusers are unlikely to use condoms and the injuries that result from 'forced sex' increases the likelihood of HIV infection.

A majority of these adolescents who are exploited or injecting drugs are street children and out-of-school youth, with very little or no education at all. They often indulge in high-risk practices or are sexually exploited. It is thus very important to empower them with knowledge and life skills so that they can protect themselves.

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