Restrictions on contraceptive services for unmarried youth: A qualitative study of providers’ beliefs and attitudes in India

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of unmarried youth is an important issue, particularly in Indian society, where premarital sex is socially restricted. It is an uncomfortable subject for most people, including healthcare providers, who are responsible for catering to the reproductive health needs of youth. This is because of the prevailing social norms, where sex outside marriage is discouraged and stigmatised. These social norms give importance to virginity, and children outside marriage are not welcome. The present qualitative study was conducted in public health facilities (primary and secondary) to explore the attitudes of healthcare providers in providing contraceptive services to unmarried youth. In-depth interviews were conducted with family planning (FP) service providers (frontline healthcare workers [ASHAs] nurses and FP counsellors) between October 2017 and September 2018. Almost a quarter of the providers were either hesitant or against providing contraceptives to unmarried youth. Providers stated that they preferred emergency contraceptive pills for unmarried girls if they had already engaged in unprotected sex. Providers expressed strong personal views against premarital sex because they believed it was against existing social norms. Some providers were concerned about the possible negative reactions of the community if they recommended any contraceptive to unmarried youth. A few providers even considered it illegal to provide contraceptives to unmarried youth, though there is no such law in the country. Findings further indicated that though the country had launched programmes for improving adolescents and youth SRH, service providers were still conflicted between medical eligibility and social beliefs.