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Legal or not, teens are having sex
Freedom means a lot to Young India. Especially sexual freedom. A survey conducted exclusively for TOI-Crest by Ipsos, a global market research agency, across eight major Indian metros clearly shows that most teenagers feel the government is barking up the wrong tree by attempting to raise the age (from 16 years to 18) for when they could have sex. But these school and college-going youngsters also spring a surprise when asked when they should have sex - most plump for 18 or 21, not 16. But aren't they contradicting themselves? Why then do they oppose the government's proposal? The answer may be found by appreciating a rather nuanced standpoint on personal freedom that these young people appear to be adopting.
The youngsters surveyed in these cities were all relatively affluent (' SEC A' in marketing lingo) and in the age group 16 to 20. They were sought out in their lairs of choice (schools, colleges, malls) and were each discreetly posed a few questions. Their answers are revealing in more ways than one.
A sizeable majority of respondents (59%) clearly oppose the government's proposal to raise the age of consent. Here, Chennai youngsters oppose it most vehemently (92% say 'No, not a good idea' ) while Delhi's gilded youth are the only ones who appear to agree with their sarkaar (70% say 'yes' to the law being changed). In a huge surprise, more girls (64%) object to the proposal than boys (54%), which may not be a good sign for a law change ostensibly meant to safeguard young girls.
But when asked 'what is the age when teenagers should be allowed to have sex?', most respondents pointedly feel it should be either 18 or 21, with Ahmedabad and Chennai skewing most to the oldest option given. The key to understanding this apparent contradiction lies in the notion of personal choice. The next question asked respondents if a law should decide such things or should the decision to have sex, or not, be a personal one? A whopping 74% felt the decision should be 'personal', with Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai coming out strongly in favour of individual freedom. Seen in conjunction with answers to the next few questions the message is rather clear: the kids want to be left alone by the law.
A sizeable 69% of youngsters surveyed feel that 16-year-olds are not 'physically or mentally prepared to have sex'. Most girls, especially, feel rather strongly on this count. When asked if there's peer pressure to have sex, most (57%) answer in the negative, except for Delhi (where 78% say 'Yes' ), Mumbai (57%) and Kolkata (52%), where dealing with such pressure appears to be quite an issue. And then when asked how many of their peers were sexually active, 40% of youngsters polled say 'more than one'. A whopping 94% of Bangalore teenagers tick this box, while 44% of Delhi youth (the highest) said that 'almost all' of their peers were sexually active. Most do not disapprove of such sexual activity either.
Some 55% also feel that 'parents or school or the internet' have prepared them for safe sex. Only in Kolkata (where a worryingly high 70% say they've not been educated about safe sex), Chennai and Ahmedabad do we find a stated lack of such knowledge, perhaps a pointer to more conservative mores stifling necessary education in these metros.
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