Economic participation of adolescent girls in India: The hidden potential to transform the economy

Indian girls

India has one of the fastest growing youth populations in the world. An estimated 190 million adolescents are a part of the rapidly changing demographics of India. Girls below 19 years of age constitute one-fourth of India’s fast growing population. (1)  Despite the Indian law prohibiting early marriage, a quarter of all Indian women between the age group of 20 to 24 years, were married by the time they were 15 years of age (2). Such marriage results in general poor physical health of the adolescent girls, as well as lack of higher education.

The problem of neglection of the adolescent girl child is a global phenomenon pervading through all developing countries. Recently, a few international agencies including the Center for Global Development and Population Council and International Center for Research on Women have joined hands together to address this situation and put the adolescent girl at the center of the development agenda in developing nations. (3)

These agencies suggest that the private sector and the multinational companies have a vanguard role to play towards improving the status of the adolescent girl and make her a key participant in the national economy. In addition to facilitating access to micro-credit, private employers are also urged to facilitate onsite-banking facilities for young women, which allow them to have savings independent of their families.

The central and state government sponsored “Kishori Shakti Yojana” (Adolescent Girls Scheme) is a case in point at a micro level in Haryana, where adolescent girls are being trained and equipped to improve their home-based and vocational skills. Such schemes need to be taken up at a larger, nationwide scale to make a meaningful and long-term impact at a broader level. (4)

Economic participation of young women is a pragmatic anti-poverty strategy that is crucial for a country like India that has a large population of adolescent girls. Literature on economic development in India is increasingly pointing towards the labour force participation of adolescent girls and young women as a critical pathway for poverty reduction (5). The economic data available suggests that India loses US$ 56 billion a year in lost potential earnings because of adolescent pregnancy, higher secondary school dropout rates, and joblessness among the young girls (6).

These numbers put the whole situation in perspective, and clearly set the agenda for improving the status of the adolescent girl in India. But to make this happen, it requires clear policies and programs at the central and state government level to economically empower the adolescent girls. Implementation of such policies and programs must be ensured at the grassroots in coordination with the local government agencies, panchayats, local NGOs as well as the corporate sector organizations in each region.


- Vikas Vij (views expressed in the article are that of the author)

(1) Center for Development and Population Activities

(2) National Family Health Survey (NFHS), 1998-1999, conducted by the Government of India.

(3) Girls Count: A Global Investment and Action Agenda



(6) “India Economic Summit Champions Investing in Girls,” published Dec. 2, 2009 in Huffington Post