The age of consent for young people to enter in any sexual relationship in India is 18 years old, which makes a range of sexual activities outside this age range illegal. In this context, where young people’s agency to engage in sexual relationships is not even considered legal, how do young people in India deal with issues of unwanted pregnancies?
In 2018 alone, a lot of young people and adolescents have approached medical professionals to seek medical assistance in terminating pregnancies. In a lot of these cases, they have consulted the doctors after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, medical abortion is legal in India only up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, provided it involves a risk to the life of the pregnant woman, poses a threat of grave injury to physical or mental health, or involves a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental health issues.
A recent Supreme Court judgement has permitted a rape survivor to terminate her pregnancy at 24 weeks. An amendment drafted in 2014 to the 1971 Act sought to increase the abortion time limit from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
There is often silence around the fact that for a lot of young girls, it is very difficult to access health services especially around issues of sexual and reproductive health. Service providers refuse to provide services to young people based on moral grounds. It makes it all the more difficult to access the service in the stipulated time period of 20 weeks. The stigma attached to abortion for an unmarried person makes it so difficult, that often it takes them time to even approach anyone for help.
Given this context, we are pushing young people to access services which are unsafe even though abortions are legal in India? A country like India is often considered to be a ‘young country’, because the number of young people in the population are on the rise. So, the lack of recognition of young people’s sexual agency is actually disheartening because it forces them to keep an unwanted pregnancies or seek unsafe abortions that can lead to possible death or serious health complications.