Vibrant Adolescents, Sustainable Communities

In Chennai city, SIAAP promotes safety and informed consent, sexual health, mental well-being, & employability preparedness for adolescents in low income settlements. We build community perspectives, offer structured training, provide counselling & access to care services, and strengthen social capital.

A pilot initiative to enable vibrancy in young people in low income urban communities through integrating sexuality, gender, sexual & mental health

Increasing urbanization has been recognized as an inevitable outcome of development. This is reflected in estimates that in the next 10 years, nearly 40% of India’s population will be in urban settlements ( However, urbanization can extract a huge toll on families, especially with low incomes, given chronic shortfalls in infrastructure, water, sanitation, and other essential services, on the one hand, and limited opportunities to acquire education and skills to aspire to more than a hand to mouth existence. Already estimates suggest that 62% of the population of smaller cities and 38% in metropolises live in low income settlements including slums ( This figure is set to rise steeply as rural-to urban migration picks up speed.

The negative impact of urbanization in low income households is especially severe among the health and well-being of adolescents and young people, already vulnerable because of fundamental physical and psychological changes they undergo in transitioning to adulthood. Young people account for almost 25% of sexually transmitted infections including HIV in India (NACO 2016), and to 10%-20% of mental health disorders (NMHP 2016). Nearly 17% of pregnancies in India are among adolescent girls, and over 40% of suicides are among youth, with 50% of transgender people attempting suicide by age 20 ( Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are common. Unemployment and underemployment among young people is 10%, and 80% respectively, (, and over 70% of job applicants do not have the necessary professional, communication, and interpersonal skills required (

The need to empower young people is well recognized by both the government and other developmental support agencies, but the response remains piecemeal and in silos, despite the fact that sexual and mental health problems are closely related, and will impact capabilities for professional work. For example, the government’s Skill India initiative receives huge support from the corporate sector, but skill building programmes rarely integrate sexual, mental health, and gender components. This leads to a high proportion of dropouts after job placement. Similarly, interventions related to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), most often fail to address the related components of sexuality, mental health, gender, and, where necessary, employment preparedness. A recent national project for capacity building of MSM/TG CBOs for HIV prevention (Pehchaan), supported by the Global Fund (2012-2016), left most CBO members back on the streets selling sex once the project funding expired.

An overarching gap beyond programmatic issues of integration is the lack of clarity or oversight around governance issues in programme design and/or implementation that may contribute to lack of sustainability. For example, ideas of community ownership and ethical oversight (e.g have become accepted jargon of development discourse. However, matching processes, and most importantly, indicators, tend to be missing. These are currently under the radar, but need to be more clearly developed for better congruence as well as impact.

At SIAAP, we are now beginning to reframe intervention designs that address these gaps.

Where we are planning our work?

We will initiate work in two low income urban settlements in Chennai. The first is a fishermen’s community, situated right on the beach in South Chennai. It comprises approximately 700 households with about 4000 people. Young people comprise about 15% of the population. The community is over a hundred years old, and has been closely knit by a shared history, caste, occupation, and marriage.

The second settlement is a low-income block of flats built about 10 years ago by the government, to encourage the fishing community to move off the beach. However, over 80% of the flats have been rented out to people from a mix of backgrounds, castes, and occupations. There are about 350 households in the settlement, with an approximate population of about 2000, with over 20% under the age of 25 years. Most adults are in daily wage occupations including construction, retail, driving, small scale vendors, and domestic workers.

The common factors in both these settlements are that they have a significant proportion of young people. In both areas, over 80% have completed high school, while almost 40%-50% have opted for higher education. Other commonalities include high levels of alcohol use among adult men, and domestic violence.

Recent conversations with young people as well as older members in these communities reveal that in both places, the most common aspiration is to ensure education, health, and employment for young people. Right now, the general consensus is that the majority of

Youngsters from these settlements perform poorly in academics, seem unable to concentrate on studies, are de-motivated, have love affairs, and are unable to find/hold on to stable employment.

What exactly is the work that you want to do?

We will work at two levels: Programme & Governance

Key objectives for the first year

  • Pilot an integrated approach to strengthen capabilities of young people, families and communities for understanding, choice, and resilience in order to promote and sustain action to achieve rights to sexuality, sexual health, mental health, and gender non-discrimination.
  • Define operational elements and key indicators of community ownership and ethical engagement.

Elements of intervention

  • Core capabilities

Self-awareness, interpersonal relationships, critical thinking, decision making, responsibility, building on strengths, resilience.

  • Sexuality and sexual health

Sexual desire, sexual attraction, sexual orientation, sexual exploration, sexual intercourse, intimacy, STIs & HIV, contraception.

  • Mental health & well-being

Depression, anxiety, anger issues, substance use, self- harm, suicide ideation.

  • Cross-cutting: Gender equality

Gender equality and empowerment, patriarchy, social constructs, and oppression, everyday discrimination and violence in family, community, work place & social occasions indicators of gender equality.

Principle Activity buckets

  1. Community engagement (strengthening Community capabilities for programme design, budget allocation, and monitoring)
  2. First line services (strengthening Individual, Family, and Community capabilities for self-awareness, choice, and action, and resilience related to sexuality & gender non-discrimination, and sexual and mental health)
  3. Accompanied Referrals & Linkages (strengthening Individual and Family capabilities to seek and access available services)
  4. Community volunteerism (strengthening Community capabilities for sustainable actions)
  5. Baseline and endline assessment (Strengthening Government and Donor capabilities for evidence based policy and budget allocation)
  6. Action research on community ownership and ethical practices (strengthening SIAAP and CSO capabilities for ethical and sustainable project design and implementation practices.
  7. Learning visits to organizations working with young people (strengthening SIAAP capabilities for knowledge and alliance building)
  8. Publication of Reports and Monographs (Strengthening sector capabilities for policy and practice)