Home to 20 per cent of the world's adolescent population, India has one of the worst track records in their health and education parameters, according to a new report.
Almost 47 per cent of girls in the age group of 11 to 19 years are underweight in India, which is the highest in the world, a UNICEF report on the 'State of the World's Children' released said.
The report said, the country's adolescents constituted 20 per cent of the world's 1.2 billion adolescents.
Nine out of ten among the 1.2 billion adolescents live in the developing world, report said, Assam was home to an estimated 6.5 million adolescents, comprising 21.3 per cent of the state's population.
The report says that around 25 per cent (243 million) of Indians belong to the age-group of 11-19 years. Almost 40 per cent of the section is out of school and 43 per cent get married before the age of 18, out of whom 13 per cent become teenage mothers.
School attendance in the 11-13 years age group is 86 per cent and 14-17 years is 64 per cent.
On the positive front, the report shows that the number of girls who got married before the age of 18 years has decreased from 54 per cent in 1992-93 to 43 per cent in 2007-08. But the figure is the eight highest in the world and Pakistan fares much better with just 25 per cent of girls getting married before the age of 18 years.
Some 6,000 adolescent mothers die every year and there is a 50 per cent higher risk of infant deaths among mothers who are aged below 20 years.
Adolescents with correct knowledge of HIV/AIDS is 35 per cent in boys and 28 per cent in girls.
The report further said that about one-third of adolescents report physical abuse and about one-third of adolescents report sexual abuse.
Besides facing the additional challenge of anaemia, Patnaik pointed out that the adolescent girls being from poor and marginalised communities were vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancies, ill health, trafficking, HIV-AIDS, abuse and violence.
"Certainly, now 74 per cent of adolescents are in school. Most of them are getting primary education. But there is a high-drop out rate afterwards, both in male and females. It is still an area of concern," Karin Hulshof, country representative for UNICEF said.
On child marriage,there is a gradual decline in the marriage before 18 years but still the ratio is "far from satisfactory".
The lack of knowledge regarding HIV/AIDS, health, abuse and unemployment are other areas where a lot of work needs to be done.
In Assam as per the government reported NFHS-3 data (2005-06), he said, almost 16.8 per cent girls aged 15-19 years were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey, while 38.6 per cent women aged 20-24 years were married before 18 years of age.
D K Sikri, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, pointed to the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls - Sabla - which was launched in November on a pilot basis in 200 districts across India.
Sikri said the scheme is aimed at addressing the multi-dimensional problems of adolescent girls between 11 and 18 years and was to be implemented through the platform of Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) projects and anganwadi centres.
The girls would be empowered by improvement in their nutritional and health status and upgrading home, life and vocational skills. It also aims at equipping the girls on family welfare, health, hygiene and information and guidance on existing public services, along with mainstreaming of school girls into formal or non-formal education.
Nutrition would also be provided to all girls of 11 to 15 years who are out of school and those of 15 to 18 years. The scheme is expected to tackle the inter-generational cycle of malnutrition, effectively, to prepare young girls for future motherhood. It would eventually result in the reduction of high levels of anaemia, maternal mortality rate and child marriages.
Sikri said around 1.92 crore girls were benefiting from the scheme and 1.2 crore registered for the training. He said states like Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala performed exceptionally well in the pilot programme.