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When her teenaged friend got pregnant in 2013 and approached her for help, it suddenly dawned on 22-year-old Anita Prasad that neither she nor any of her young friends and neighbours in south Delhi's Munirka neighbourhood had any clue about contraceptives or sexual reproductive health.
This rude awakening compelled the Delhi University arts student to get herself enrolled in free classes on reproductive health and family planning organised by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) at a nearby centre in R.K. Puram. (Read:Sex Education: The need of the hour?)
Prasad, who was already learning cutting and tailoring skills at the Yuva Chetna Kendra run by IPPF, learnt that the same centre also held classes on sexual health and family planning and decided to take the plunge despite the issue being a taboo. (Read: India to work for removal of taboos around family planning )
'I knew I had to learn about it and also educate my young friends and cousins about the risks and precautions related to sexual issues,' Prasad told IANS. Prasad's first class was at the age of 20 and she is today a volunteer of the IPPF -- an NGO on sexual and reproductive health and rights active in 170 countries.
'Now, I am in a position to help others. Woman in my locality from all ages approach me for guidance. Over the years, more and more youngsters have become aware about their bodies and sexuality in our locality,' said Prasad, who credited her parents for her achievements.
The Reproductive Health and Family Planning Centre in R.K. Puram, in its 40 years of existence, has reached out to around 315,000 people in the city - the majority of them slum-dwellers and villagers from south Delhi.
In fact, IPPF, till a couple of years ago, had five projects in the national capital that were set up either independently or with financial assistance from the Indian government to spread awareness about sexual health and family planning among the poor and backward.
Three centres situated in Shahdara, Geeta Colony and Yamuna Vihar in east Delhi focussed on urban family planning and operated between 1970 and 2014. Another centre - services education and training unit - provided screening facilities for sexually transmitted diseases to close to 300,000 people in its almost three years of operation.
According to Anjali Sen, IPPF's Regional Director for the South Asia Region, the centres were set up after thoroughly analyzing the particular localities, their demographics and the issues faced by the residents.
However, a major cash crunch brought the curtains down on four centres, leaving only the one in R.K. Puram operational due to the fact that it does not receive any help from the government. 'These projects were a lifeline for many and we definitely want to restart them. At present, we are trying hard to find a way out,' Sen told IANS.
She also said that the IPPF has 28 projects across the country and the one on 'Addressing Adolescent Fertility' with UNFPA-India funding, which was initiated in Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh in 2010 to address the contraceptive needs of young couples, has been a major success.
This project imparts reproductive education amongst the youth and is an example of the reach of IPPF's member associations working at the grassroots to provide voluntary family planning services to the most vulnerable.
'Access to sexual and reproductive health remains a distant dream for many young people. That's why we have set a target of increasing family planning services to enable 120 million more women and girls to use contraceptives by 2020,' Sen concluded.
Image source: Getty Images
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