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 Post subject: National Survey on Emerging Issues among Adolescents
 Post Posted: Sun Nov 06, 2005 1:45 am 
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National Survey on Emerging Issues among Adolescents in Sri Lanka
Adolescent angst

There are 3.7 million adolescents in Sri Lanka, comprising nearly one-fifth the total population of the island. These 3.7 million children are all going through what is by any standards a difficult time – one in which the growing child is faced with the ‘real’ world.

@ ST / Sunday, October 16, 2005

Shehan is a mystery to his parents. He’s just turned 14 and barely talks to them anymore. He’s moody, unpredictable and spends a lot of time away from home. His parents know that he has begun to smoke, but any attempt to talk him out of it does not seem to work.

There are 3.7 million adolescents in Sri Lanka, comprising nearly one-fifth the total population of the island. These 3.7 million children are all going through what is by any standards a difficult time – one in which the growing child is faced with the ‘real’ world.

In a ground-breaking report released this month, UNICEF interviewed 40,000 Sri Lankan adolescents in an attempt to identify some of the problem areas. In the ‘National Survey on Emerging Issues among Adolescents in Sri Lanka” young people were asked questions regarding substance abuse, intimate relationships, knowledge of reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and the incidence of sexual abuse among other things. The results are being used to build, strengthen and expand national youth services.

“Today’s adolescents face many challenges that their predecessors did not. This is due to rapid socio-economic changes that Sri Lanka has experienced over the years. Terrorism, migration, disintegration of extended families, social isolation, uncensored media exposure, lack of accurate information, unemployment and limited resources could make Sri Lanka’s young people vulnerable to many risks associated with adolescence,” said Ranjith Maligaspe, Secretary of the Ministry of Healthcare, Nutrition and Uva Wellassa Development in a message. The risks are both mental and physical, including suicides, social unrest, teenage pregnancy and abortions.

“We consider those between the ages of 1 and 18 children,” said Dr. Hiranthi Wijemanne, Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA). “We pay a lot of attention to the care of the little ones,” she said “but all that effort is entirely wasted if we do not work with the adolescents as well.”
Dr. Wijemanne identified adolescents as children between the ages of 10 and 18 and went on to explain that the hormonal changes that adolescents experienced were particularly difficult for both themselves and those around them to cope with.

The situation is made worse by everyone’s reluctance to actually talk about issues such as reproduction and sexual abuse. While substance abuse is dealt with in a more direct manner, it does not always help as “many children know what is right and wrong, but are unable to stand up to peer pressure”, said Dr. Wijemanne, adding that the only remedy is to nurture life skills in our young people. “The ability to say ‘no’, even in the face of peer pressure is a life skill,” she said, “as is the ability to cope with problems.” In a country where adolescents have been known to commit suicide over minor issues, the ability to problem solve and to put things in perspective is critical.

Worryingly, many young people’s only source of information is their sometimes equally ignorant friends, revealed Dr. Wijemanne, emphasising the urgent need for more youth friendly information services. “The media now acts as the third parent,” she said explaining that the way issues such as sex or smoking are portrayed in popular media may distort the way young people view such things. They must at the very least be equipped with the data that allows them to make informed decisions, before they make choices that will irreversibly impact the rest of their lives.

“Sex is not a crime,” said Dr. Wijemanne, adding that it was a natural biological drive and should be treated as such. Young people looking for information should not be stigmatized; that does not solve the problem and instead isolates those most in need of help.

The report recommended raising awareness among children and adolescents on sexual abuse and increasing skills to avoid situations that may result in abuse.
On the subject of smoking and alcohol abuse, an alarming fact that emerged was that 60 % of adolescents felt that use of these substances could be stopped at any time, indicating that they were unaware of their addictive nature.

Key findings

* Among 14-19 year olds in school, 6% reported having experienced heterosexual intercourse, while 10% reported having homosexual relations.

* Heterosexual relations were more common among those out of school (22%) and 12% of those reported having sex with commercial sex workers.

* Of those who had heterosexual experiences only 39% used condoms.

* Only 57% were aware of the existence of STDs in general. Less than 20% were aware of the symptoms, signs and way of preventing STDs.

*About 10% of early school going adolescents and 14% of mid and late school-going adolescents admitted to having been sexually abused. The most common perpetrators were family members and relatives (38% and 27% respectively in early adolescence).

*Nearly 40% found it difficult to cope with academic pressure due to high expectations of parents and the same number felt that their parents were not supportive of their decisions.

*The majority of school-going adolescents perceived their families as intimate and close (60%) and mothers were identified as the most trusted persons irrespective of age, sex and socio-economic status.

*Among the boys, the prevalence of smoking increased from 14% among 14-16 year olds to 32% among the 17-19 year olds. On average, most adolescents started smoking and using alcohol around 14-15 years of age.

*Nearly 70% of 10-13 year olds were unaware of the changes happening within their bodies. Less than 50% were able to correctly answer questions on reproduction and related issues.


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