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Yet among India's 300 million young people ages 10 to 24, recent
studies show that premarital sex is increasingly common. A 2001 study
conducted in Delhi and the Lucknow (capital of India's most populous
state, Uttar Pradesh) by the National Institute of Health and Family
Welfare shows that some 15 percent of young people engage in
premarital sex, even though Indian society regards sex before marriage
as deviant behavior. The study, which included grade school and
college students, also revealed that despite a growing HIV/AIDS
epidemic, many young people have unprotected sex. Two common reasons
given by youth for not using condoms are that they are hesitant to
obtain them (39.3 percent) and fear side effects (34.3 percent),
according to the study "Premarital Sexuality and Unmet Need of
Ironically, even the veneer of modernity among the better-educated
middle- and upper-class youth can be misleading. In her 2001 research
work "Youth and HIV/AIDS in India," Allison Drynan observes that a
worry commonly expressed by sexuality educators in New Delhi is that
"middle-upper-class youth" are less receptive to information than
Drynan, who gathered information on youth issues as part of a program
sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA),
attributed this widespread ignorance to an absence of uniformly
established sexual and reproductive health education in schools.
Educators she surveyed also pointed out that middle/upper-class youths
falsely perceived their awareness of "Western sexual behaviors"
?gained through the media ?as awareness of their own sexuality.
This lack of access to reliable information is especially alarming
given the high number of HIV/AIDS cases in India. With a population of
more than 1 billion, even a comparatively low adult HIV prevalence
rate (0.8 percent) translates into large numbers of infections. Thus,
at the end of 2001, an estimated 3.97 million adults and children were
living with the virus, according to the National AIDS Control
Organization (NACO). This number exceeds that of any other country
except South Africa, where some 5.
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end of 2001.
The first case in India was detected in 1986 in Chennai (Madras), the
capital of Tamil Nadu in south India, but it was dismissed as an
aberration and a "Western" disease. Today, the mistake of that
illusion is well accepted and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, in
his Independence Day speech two years ago, declared HIV/AIDS as one of
the main concerns of the country and one that has to be tackled from
all fronts. The high incidence of illiteracy, poverty, and migrant
labor has added to the rapid rise in the number of HIV cases.
In its 2002 assessment of the epidemic in India, the Joint United
Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) notes that although infections
have been reported across India, an overwhelming 98 percent of AIDS
cases are concentrated in just 10 of the country's 31 states. In
addition to Maharashtra in the west, the 10 are mainly in the south.
NACO says the majority of infections are heterosexually transmitted.
Infections are also concentrated among needle-sharing injecting drug
users and their partners in the northeastern state of Manipur. This
area is close to the Golden Triangle ?the border region of Myanmar,
Laos, and Thailand known for its trade in heroin and opium.