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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 23  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 38-42

Adolescent girls in romantic relationship under child protection system – Issues and concerns: A study from India

Department of Psychiatric Social Work, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication2-Nov-2018

Correspondence Address:
Bergai Parthsarathy Nirmala
Department of Psychiatric Social Work, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jmhhb.jmhhb_26_18

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Background: Existing literature shows the developmental significance of romantic relationships during adolescence and its influence on mental health and emotional well-being of adolescents. However, in recent years, this phenomenon has begun to receive more research attention in the Indian context. In India, many adolescent girls engage in risk-taking behaviors such as running away from home, child marriage, unsafe sexual relationships and teenage pregnancy, and consequently come into contact with child protection units. Methods: Adopting a retrospective exploratory research design, this study is a case report analysis of the psychosocial issues at individual level and family level in romantic relationship of adolescent girls who engaged in such risk-taking behaviors and were institutionalized in a State Children's Home in urban India. Results: In the present study, the mean age of the participants was 16.34 years with the range of 14–18 years. About 60% of the participants were in high school. Majority of them hailed from nuclear family with lower socioeconomic status and belonged to Hindu Religion. Psychosocial issues among adolescents and parents before and after risk-taking behaviors are varied and interlinked. Majority of the issues are related to the social norms and have significant impact on adolescents and their parents. Conclusion: Implications for future research, and for designing interventions for adolescents and their families, based on a mental health and development perspective, are highlighted. There is a need for enhancing skills among adolescent girls and for family interventions to enhance parent–children relationships to deal effectively with issues in the context of adolescent romantic relationships.

Keywords: Adolescent girls, India, psychosocial issues, romantic relationship

How to cite this article:
Manjula B, Janardhana N, Nirmala BP. Adolescent girls in romantic relationship under child protection system – Issues and concerns: A study from India. J Mental Health Hum Behav 2018;23:38-42

How to cite this URL:
Manjula B, Janardhana N, Nirmala BP. Adolescent girls in romantic relationship under child protection system – Issues and concerns: A study from India. J Mental Health Hum Behav [serial online] 2018 [cited 2023 Jun 1];23:38-42. Available from: https://www.jmhhb.org/text.asp?2018/23/1/38/244911

  Introduction Top

Developing interest in romantic involvement during adolescence is one of the significant features of adolescence[1] and becomes extremely important in their life when they move from early to late adolescence.[2] It is also recognized as one among the important developmental tasks in adolescence[3] and can influence the course of other developmental tasks such as development of sexuality, family and peer relationships, and academics and career planning.[4] Existing literature on romantic involvement during adolescents have demonstrated that they have both positive and negative outcomes on adolescence. Healthy romantic involvement plays an important role in developing identity, shaping personal values regarding romance, intimate relationships, and sexuality and enhance their self-esteem.[5] However, unhealthy relationships pose risks that may have long-lasting impact on adolescents.[6] Research studies have also indicated risks behaviors in romantic involvement context, those include, poor academic motivation and performance, depression and anxiety, acceptance of unhealthy relationships, risky sexual activities, antisocial behaviors, and dating violence.[7],[8],[9] Implications from these research studies indicated for helping young people to develop skills that support healthy relationships through school- and community-based programs by minimizing risk behaviors.[10],[11]

Understanding about adolescent romantic relationship phenomenon has begun to receive much research attention in the Indian context. Risk behaviors in romantic involvement observed in the form of running away from home, getting married, and engaging in unsafe sexual practices and becoming pregnant. They consequently come into contact with child protection units such as government children homes through child welfare committee (CWC). They receive psychosocial care and other child protection services according to the guidelines from Juvenile Justice (care and protection) Act, 2015. These services generally include institutional and noninstitutional care and services, child line, foster care, sponsorship, shelter homes, promotion of family-based care, aftercare programs, adoption, Health, education, vocational training, development programs, legal assistance, and rehabilitation, etc. Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POSCO 2012) makes sexual contact in any form with anyone below 18 years of age illegal and punishable under law. This poses a threat to the sexual freedom of adolescents and their romantic partners engaging in sexual practices and imposes legal obligations on them.[12] During this process of care and protection, these girls placed in government children homes for a period of 1 week–1 month, depending upon the sensitivity of the issues. The risk behaviors affect parent–adolescent relationship and contribute for stressors among parents and adolescents. Understanding their varied psychosocial needs is crucial for professionals working with vulnerable children and their families. The present paper is an attempt to describe the psychosocial issues among adolescent girls and their parents in the context of romantic relationship under care and protection framework.

  Methodology Top

The present paper aimed at understanding the psychosocial issues of adolescent girls in romantic relationship context before and after coming in care and protection framework. It adopted a retrospective exploratory research design, which is an analysis of secondary data. Adolescent girls who came under care and protection framework in romantic relationship context were seen under the project psychosocial interventions for children in difficult circumstances at child protection unit, Government Children Home for Girls, Bengaluru, India. JJ Act 2015 mentioned about different categories of children in difficult circumstances who needs care and protection. They are child labor, trafficked children; victims of sexual abuse, run away, abandoned, etc., among these children, most of the adolescents came in the context of romantic involvement and associated psychosocial issues. Individual case files were maintained as part of the project and detailed psychosocial issues and the services received were documented. These interventions aimed at enhancing the parent–child relationship and facilitate them to overcome the difficulties and healthy transition to adulthood. Individual-level interventions focused upon enhancing their psychosocial competence through life skills, sexuality and reproductive health, behavioral interventions, educating them about child protection mechanism, and rehabilitation plan. Family interventions focused upon psychoeducation, parenting skills, negotiation on reintegrating back with family, and enhancing parent's abilities in dealing with challenges in different family life cycle stages. These interventions were found to be useful in this population.

Adolescents in the age group of 14–18 years who were reported to be in romantic relationship and brought to CWC constituted the population of the study. Among the cases seen for therapeutic services during March 2015–February 2016, a total number of 60 cases were seen and among them 50 case reports were taken for the current study, where detailed psychosocial issues and interventions were documented. Remaining 10 were dropped out due to brief assessments and interventions.

Information regarding sociodemographic details, psychosocial issues reported before and after coming under care, and protection in romantic relationship context was identified through case reports. Frequency analysis was done to describe the sociodemographic details. Qualitative content analysis was used to identify the most common issues which were reported by adolescent girls and their families. Individual case reports were read and reread multiple times until researcher could deduce certain conceptual meanings and units of relevance to the research objectives. These units of meaning or rephrasing of the ideas implied were written as and when they simultaneously emerged in the first two readings. Phrases derived from the initial readings reduced into further meaningful units and were further condensed and crystallized. These were categorized by rephrasing, combining and condensing, and arrived at the final list of areas of issues.

The study was approved by the Institute Ethics Committee and guidelines were followed by maintaining the anonymity of the participants with least harm for their dignity. Informed consent was obtained from the family members and ascent was obtained from the adolescents for publishing the research study findings. Both adolescents and their family members received psychosocial interventions and necessary referral services.

  Results Top

The results of the present study described under three sections. They are sociodemographic details of the participants; Psychosocial issues reported before coming under care and protection and Psychosocial issues reported after coming under care and protection. The detailed description of results is as follows:

Section 1

In the present study, the mean age of the participants was 16.34 years with the range of 14–18 years. About 60% of the participants were in high school. Majority of them hailed from nuclear family with lower socioeconomic status and belonged to Hindu Religion.

Section 2

Psychosocial issues reported before coming under care and protection

Following psychosocial issues were identified at the individual level from the case reports:

  1. Lack of warmth and support in families and constant search for love and affection
  2. Problems in prioritizing their developmental tasks such as academics, career planning, and responsibilities over romantic involvement
  3. Lack of adequate knowledge regarding sexuality and reproductive health and personal safety skills
  4. Lack of skills in analyzing the situation and decision-making regarding academics, marriage, and sexual activities with romantic partner
  5. Lack of skills in foreseeing the consequences of run away from home with romantic partner.
Table 1: Sociodemographic details of adolescent girls

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Following psychosocial issues were identified at family level from the case reports:

  1. Disagreement regarding selection of romantic partner because of caste, family status of the boy, physical appearance, character of the boy, and family honor
  2. Parents becoming critical and punitive when neighbors and relatives commented about their behavior and activities and suggested/forced them to control adolescent daughter
  3. Disturbed parent–child relationship in the process of discussion about marriage with romantic partner
  4. Parents made efforts to prevent their daughter to dissolve their romantic relationship in the form of:

    1. Forceful marriage attempt to prevent their daughter to get married with her romantic partner
    2. Restriction of activities in the form of not sending her outside, restriction of movement at home, no access to phone/mobile phone, not allowing them to meet friends, etc., to prevent them from involving in activities with romantic partner
    3. Restriction to attend school/college and not supporting for continuing education because of fear of runaway behavior and meeting of romantic partner.

Section 3

Psychosocial issues reported after coming under care and protection

At individual level following are the psychosocial issues reported after coming under care and protection:

  1. Lack of understanding about care and protection mechanism when they were brought to CWC and placed in children homes
  2. Fear of legal action on romantic partner because of runaway, sexual contact and marriage
  3. Fear of parental reaction for their behavior
  4. Fear of facing parents and inhibition to respond to their questions and discuss with them
  5. Fear of rejection from parents for reintegration with family
  6. Fear of lack of support from parents for continuing studies
  7. Fear of not being able to get married to romantic partner and forceful marriage with someone else after reintegrating with family
  8. Fear of response from relatives, friends and neighbors after reintegrating with family
  9. In case of pregnancy dilemma regarding childbearing versus termination
  10. Dilemma in prioritizing romantic partner and parents in case of rigidity from parents.

At family level following psychosocial issues reported after coming under care and protection:

  1. Changes in the family functioning with regard to parent–adolescent relationship, parenting patterns, decision-making on reintegration with family/rehabilitation plan and redefining boundaries between parent and children, especially adolescent autonomy on deciding about marriage
  2. Social, emotional, and economic impact on family followed by risk behavior of their adolescent daughter in the form of criticism and comments from relatives, neighbors, school, spending money in the process of tracing girl, accompanying to hospital, court, legal procedures, dealing with their emotions regarding daughter, and family honor
  3. Social factors versus daughter's needs-prioritizing are the major challenges for parents. As romantic relationship during adolescence has not received social acceptance, parents who are bound with social norms and social pressure face difficulties in accepting their daughter
  4. Dilemma in consenting for reintegration with family due to fear of reoccurrence of behaviors in romantic relationship context
  5. Challenges in parenting adolescents with behavioral issues in romantic relationship context.

Psychosocial issues among adolescents and parents before and after risk-taking behaviors are varied and interlinked. Majority of the issues are related to the social norms and have significant impact on adolescents and their parents. The following flowchart briefly explains the process of adolescents getting into risk-taking behavior, coming under care and protection framework, and associated psychosocial issues at individual and family level [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Psychosocial issues of adolescent girls in romantic relationship from child protection system

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  Discussion Top

The adolescent girls in romantic relationship who came under care and protection belonged to the age group of 14–18 years, either studying in high school or started their college. In the existing studies on romantic relationship among adolescents targeted high school and college-going adolescents who were in the age group of 14–19 years.[13],[14],[15] This is the age where they initiate romantic involvement. In the present study, majority of the participants hailed from nuclear and single-parent families. The studies from abroad found that if there is instability in family structure in terms of living with single parent, stepparent in both middle childhood, and early adolescence, it increases the likelihood of a current romance.[16] Studies highlighted the influence of the current family structure on adolescents' chances of being in romantic relationship.[17],[18]

Studies from abroad stated that unhealthy relationships among adolescents may place them into risks.[6] Similarly, the present study also found risk behaviors among adolescents in romantic relationship contexts and these were different from the Western countries. These are mainly related to social and familial factors along with the individual characteristics.[12] As adolescent romantic relationship has not been socially acceptable in India, and majority of the situations, marriage is decided by family members,[19] adolescents face difficulties in discussing about their romantic relationship which in turn influence for risk-taking behaviors. These behaviors have significant impact on their personal and family life.

With regard to parenting practices, it was found that parents adopted restrictive and punitive style of parenting in the context of romantic relationships. However, these did not prevent them to continue in romantic involvement. In an Indian study on premarital relationships among young adults, it was found that despite strict supervision, disapproval of interactions with opposite gender, there are opportunities for social mixing and young people have devised ways of developing romantic partnerships with the opposite sex.[20]

It is also interesting to observe that these restrictive and punitive practices most of the time influenced by pressure from extended family members, neighbors, family honor, socioeconomic conditions, and cultural context. In contrary, studies from other countries found that most parents have used dating rules which were prescriptive in nature.[21] Parents comfortable with their secure base roles and their rule sets were judged to afford them more control over their children's dating activities and restrictive involvement was more with daughters than sons.[11] Studies highlighted the importance of parenting practices in adolescent romantic relationships and the emotional climate of parent–offspring relationships as a developmental context for those practices.[22] The restrictive and punitive parenting can contribute for forming of relationships and disturbed parent and adolescent relationships. The family factors can also likely to influence risk behaviors among adolescents. Hence, there is a need for encouraging closer interaction between parents and children and adolescent need information on how they initiate and build these relationships and addressing their needs.[23]

At the individual level, they have skills deficits in dealing with the issues and balancing other developmental tasks. However, majority of the issues found at the family level, where parents had challenges in parenting practices, dealing with social norms and helping their adolescent daughters. India being a collectivist culture allows families to play a dominant role in taking major decisions centering the lives of children. Choice marriages are still discouraged and parental acceptance is crucial for marriage. Parents often believe that strict supervision of children inhibits their formation of romantic or sexual partnerships.[24] In another study on exploring issues and challenges faced when defying the traditional culture of arranged marriage to enter into an intercaste marriage in the rural Indian context, it highlights that marriage in India is primarily based on social stratification of a caste system and its large prevalence in rural India. The findings indicated that the caste system condemns intercaste marriage, and the couple who tries to defy this norm faces awful consequences, especially among Hindus, where arranged marriage has been propagated.[25]

Limitations and implications of the present study

The present study is an analysis of secondary data and has limitations in the study design and the process. Only common issues at individual and family level were identified in the present study. Mixed-method research methodology would have been better to get both quantitative and qualitative results to understand the contributing factors for risk-taking behaviors and its impact. There is a need to understand these issues from multiple perspectives.

Findings from the research studies highlighted that as there is minimal social and family acceptance for romantic relationship in India adolescents and their families face psychosocial issues and have unique needs and concerns. Adolescents need support and skills in maintaining healthy relationships without risk behaviors, dealing with their emotions, balance other developmental tasks such as academic and career development, healthy sexual behavior, family and peer relationships, and promote their mental health and well-being. Adolescent mental health programs are very significant in this context. As the quality of adolescents' early romantic relationships is particularly important, the programs which are targeting this population are pivotal. There is a need for designing culture-sensitive intervention programs to address psychosocial issues among adolescents and their parents. Understanding their issues and concerns has implications for building capacity of professionals working with these vulnerable population and modifying policies and programs on children.

  Conclusion Top

Romantic relationship during adolescence has received developmental significance and has both positive and negative outcomes for adolescents. Many adolescents due to high risk behaviours, unhealthy relationships, violation of legal norms etc., led them to crisis situation. This affects their relationship with family; academics; other opportunities; affecting their development process. Understanding adolescent issues from developmental perspective helps in designing programmes for adolescents and their family members. This would facilitate healthy transition to adulthood and enables them to take part in societal development.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Figure 1]

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