UNFPA to focus on youths and tribal population

Bhubaneswar: With 22 per cent of Odisha`s population comprising youths, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has decided to focus on the state`s young people including teenagers and improve the reproductive health tribal population from next year. This was revealed by UNFPA`s Country Representative Frederika Meijer during her first visit to the state today.

"The focus of UNFPA`s next programme cycle (2013-17) of partnership with Odisha will have focus on young people (including teenagers), promote and support voluntary family planning, facilitate multi-sectoral response to promote dignity of girl child including curbing sex selection," Meijer said during a meeting with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

UNFPA had been partnering with the state government, NGOs, Civil Society organisations and stakeholders in the state since 1999. While the UN body had been working with the health and family welfare department of the state now, it could expand activities to the scheduled tribe and schedule caste development department in the 2013-17 cycle, sources said.

Though UNFPA expressed its satisfaction over reduction of infant and maternal mortality in the state, it pointed out that nearly half of the girls in southern Odisha marry before they attain 18 years and 30 per cent of girls in Ganjam district tie the knot before the prescribed age limit.

However, the median age at marriage for girls in the state was 20.5 years better than the national average of 19.7 years. There is clear variation in the marriage age of girls among districts, Meijer pointed out during her discussion with health minister Prasanna Acharya. Low age at marriage and poor understanding of reproductive health issues results in too early, too frequent and too many pregnancies. "This causes danger to the lives of young mothers and the newborns," she said adding that family planning alone could reduce the maternal mortality by one third.

While IMR of Odisha was recorded at 61 per 1,000 babies born, MMR was 258 per one lakh against the national average of 212. Contraception and family planning reduces health risks by delaying the first pregnancy that carried higher risk in young women, cut down unsafe abortion that accounted for nearly 8 per cent of all maternal mortality in the country.

"Investing in reproductive health needs of young population will be an intelligent investment for the economic boost of the state," Meijer told Patnaik. Justifying UNFPA`s selection of focus area for Odisha, Meijer said total fertility rate (TFR) which indicates average number of children born to a woman during her reproductive life is 2.3 for Odisha against a national average of 2.6.

Therefore, in order to educate the young people including adolescent, new areas need to be given focus in the next cycle of the UNFPA, she said. During her two-day visit to the state which concluded today, Meijer visited a tribal residential school in the state capital and interacted with adolescent masses.

The UN body representative also said the high political commitment required to reverse declining child sex ratio. "While health department is strengthening implementation of PCPNDT Act by monitoring the functioning of ultrasound units, the departments of women and child development (WCD), education, employment and panchatyati raj need to work towards creating conducive environment for women and girls," she said.