The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in India, with support from Reckitt Benckiser (RB), a consumer goods company and producer of health, hygiene, and home products, is set to launch a two-year program for 10- to 19-year-olds called The Birds and Bees Talk. Talking about “the birds and the bees” is a common euphemism to refer to a discussion of basic facts about sex and reproduction, as told to a child.
“The purpose of the program is to help young people make informed decisions about their health and life skills,” said Rajan Pydimalla, program director for ADRA in India. “ADRA helps people in need, especially those most vulnerable, such as women, older adults, and minority communities. Children are no exception. Having open conversations through The Birds and Bees Talk program allows young people to ask questions, understand what life outcomes will mean based on decisions they make, and take appropriate actions as they get older. ADRA is thankful for RB supporting a much-needed initiative and for advancing a cause that benefits generations to come.”
The program is composed of 27 courses in an innovative and engaging curriculum designed to address the information gap around young people’s reproductive and sexual health and rights and provide them with a comprehensive life skills module that addresses power, protection, and pleasure.
By 2023, the program aims to reach two million children across government and private schools in six northeast states of India: Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and Nagaland.
To gain community support, ADRA and RB organized a bike rally, in collaboration with Royal Motors Group, in Imphal, Manipur, with more than 50 bike riders participating. Riders wore a royal blue t-shirt with The Birds and Bees Talk logo and rode nearly 68 miles (110 kilometers) from Imphal East to Bishnapur to highlight the importance of decision-making, consent, and life skills for adolescents.
Government officials, including the minister of Water Resources, Youth Affairs, and Sports, and the deputy secretary of Reverse and Disaster Management, were present to start the bike rally. Other dignitaries also attended the event and praised RB and ADRA for their concerted efforts to reach adolescents in the state.
“Adolescence is a crucial age to develop an understanding of one’s health and critical life skills,” said Ravi Bhatnagar, director of external affairs and partnerships for RB Health. “With The Birds and Bees Talk program, we have developed engaging ways to empower adolescents with essential critical thinking, decision-making, knowledge, attitude, and values. We aim to promote healthy behaviors so that the adolescents in the northeastern states grow into responsible, healthy adults.”
“This partnership is about educating adolescent youth about their bodies, about their health and wellbeing, and taking on accountability for their lives,” said Weston Davis, ADRA’s country director in India. “We are grateful to the teachers, the community leaders, and the government leaders who have supported this program. We are especially grateful to RB, who has had such an integral part in making this event happen.”
India has the largest adolescent population in the world, with more than 253 million adolescents ages 10-19, according to UNICEF. This age group is composed of individuals in a transitional phase of life requiring proper nutrition, education, sexual awareness, counseling, and guidance to ensure their development into healthy adults.
Due to a number of socio-economic challenges, many adolescents in India lack access to accurate and age-appropriate information on issues impacting their lives, according to a 2015 study. Adolescent girls, especially, are highly vulnerable due to the prevalent gender inequality resulting in early dropout from school, social stigma around topics such as sex and menstruation, and early marriage and pregnancy.
Additionally, states of the northeast region reportedly have a high adult HIV prevalence, including Mizoram (2.32 percent), Manipur (1.18 percent), and Nagaland (1.45 percent), which are much higher than the average national prevalence (0.22 percent) in India. In Manipur, the most productive age group (15-39 years) has the maximum rate of deaths due to HIV. The region’s younger population is vulnerable in the context of HIV infection, particularly for drug users.