If youth only knew, if age only could!

Youth, child pregnancy and adults 

We do not have to reinvent the wheel – fortunately so, but then we must be willing to take the time needed to learn and share, and guide. That’s our responsibility as adults towards the youth

We were all young once upon a time, and today’s youth will become the future adults. It is not for nothing that someone coined the proverb ‘Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait!’ (If youth only knew, if age only could!).

What is it, then, that youth do not know and that the elderly know, and that they need to be aware of? Never mind what the elderly can no longer do, it does not matter very much in the overall scheme of things: they can jolly well get along nevertheless. We may someday return to this issue and concerns of the aged about their constraints. But for the purpose of this article, as far as the elderly are concerned, their essential role is that of giving the good example by being examples themselves.

However, the context may have changed – and it will keep doing so – but problems relating to youth are nothing new. As Swami Harshananda writes, ‘The youth problem is not a special curse of our times. More than 2300 years ago, Plato wrote thus: “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the laws. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” Does it not look like a perfect echo of the wailings of the elders of today?’

And Swami Harshananda goes to state a quasi-truism, ‘As long as young people exist, the problem will continue to exist’.

Swami Harshananda of the Ramakrishna Mission has written a small booklet entitled ‘How the modern youth can confront their problems’, from which the passage above is taken. He has spent a lifetime dealing with all types of human problems, and those of the youth have always been a major concern of leaders like him. The booklet is based on his vast experience, and it is the wisdom of people like him that we must turn to for guidance about how to tackle many of the fundamental problems of life, including those of youths.

We do not have to reinvent the wheel – fortunately so, but then we must be willing to take the time needed to learn and share, and guide. That’s our responsibility as adults towards the youth — but they also must take their share of the responsibility by being willing to come forth and participate in platforms meant for helping them. More often than not, alas, they keep away and lose their way, only to realise when it is too late.

The news about unfortunate death of a pregnant 13-year old child followed by that of another one of the same age who was also pregnant with the ‘father’ absconding has caused a lot of justifiable stir in the past few days. The more so as the first child had been married religiously, contrary to the law of the country which does not allow marriage before the age of 16. This incident resonated with me because I have had experience of a case in which the outcome was, fortunately, a better one for everyone concerned – but of course, especially for the girl who was thus spared more trauma.

It happened when I was posted at the Jeetoo hospital more than 20 years ago. A 13-year-old girl was brought by her mother and grandmother to my Plastic Clinic, holding a few-days-old baby in her lap. I was involved because the baby had a cleft lip (or hare lip as we say commonly), which needs surgical repair. I had a moment of vicarious joy when I saw in front of me all of four generations: grandmother, mother, grand-daughter, and grand-grand-daughter – something that has not happened again since!

Anyway, spontaneously I exclaimed ‘ene tibaba ek so baba!’ (‘A little baby with her baby!). What struck me though was that there was no sign of distress on the faces of the mother and grandmother, and the reason was revealed as I went through organizing the surgery. It seems that the grand-daughter had come to spend the holiday at her grandma’s place, where there lived a 19-year-old cousin, who worked as a mechanic. And he was the one who committed the act.

Once the families were faced with the fact, they took the advice of the parish priest. The cousin accepted responsibility, and the families together decided that they would go ahead with the pregnancy, and get them married when the girl reached legally marriageable age. In due course the cleft lip was repaired, and at review later the future husband also came along. I learnt that the girl was continuing with her schooling, and the baby was well looked after.

In another case that I know about, the parents had ‘arrete’ the boy and girl who were both past 18, and the marriage was to be fixed later because they could not afford it just yet. But then the girl became pregnant. Here also there was a fortunate outcome because of an understanding attitude on the part of both families. They also decided that the pregnancy would go ahead. The girl would stay with her parents till then, and after delivery she should go to the father’s house – but no marriage until they both brought up the child for some years, and mutually decide that they do want to be partners for life.

This was done, the father dropped his plan to emigrate, and when the boy was five years old he accompanied his parents to the altar. They are now expecting their second child.

The point here is that through mutual understanding and human considerations it is possible to come to such arrangements as these two cases demonstrate, but of course this must not become the norm. There is a clear need to debate these and similar issues in a focused and serious manner, dispassionately – however hard this may seem –, bringing in all stakeholders concerned, so that pragmatic solutions may be worked out for both prevention and for coping post-facto.

Swamiji also alludes to the problems of smoking, alcoholism and hard drug addiction, as well as to sexual promiscuity amongst the youth. It should not surprise that he points to ‘movies which have thrown all decency to the winds, with their eyes only on the box-office… have been largely  responsible not only in setting this trend but also in positively encouraging promiscuity and crime’.

This reminds me of some of the programmes on MBC-TV which are beyond bounds of decency even for adults – just think what impact they can have on children. One of them is ‘Zoom’. As responsible adults we should condemn the showing of such movies and/or channels, and press for their removal. I hope that members of the board of MBC-TV feel equally responsible in this regard and take urgent action so as to prevent youth from being corrupted even more.

All of civil society must be involved, and decide together what kind of social, regulatory and legal structures are required to deal with these problems. And make best use of existing bodies and improve on them where required. That can be the only way forward.


* Published in print edition on 6 July 2018

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