NEW DELHI: Renu Kumari has been in a bit of a spot for the last two years. The 14-year-old, a Class IX student of Rani Jhansi Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Tughlakabad, faces a tough time during her menstrual cycle every month as she hasn’t been getting any sanitary napkins at her school.
“Sometimes, when our mother is not around, I feel shy asking for money from my father to buy a sanitary napkin and use cloth instead. In any case, napkins are expensive and we do not have that kind of money,” says Ranu. With her father, a driver, earning Rs 10,000 per month and her mother a homemaker, the family can hardly afford to spend money on sanitary napkins.
“We used to get two packets of sanitary napkins every month, but now it has stopped. We asked our teachers, but they were clueless and said the higher officials had not informed them anything,” said Ranu.
Hundreds of adolescent girls are facing a similar situation as a number of Delhi government schools have stopped providing sanitary napkins since the lockdown in 2020.
“I am in extreme pain during my periods. Using cloth makes it worse as it causes infections, but I have no option,” said Akansha Kumari, a Class X student of Rani Jhansi Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya. A large number of teenage girls are forced to use cloth during their periods as they either do not have enough money or do not feel comfortable asking their parents to buy napkins.
Some students of Rajkiya Sarvodaya Balika Vidyalaya at Pul Prahladpur said the counselling sessions on menstruation and female health were also now few and far between now. Only one counselling session was provided last year.
Doctors say that using cloth during periods by adolescent girls can be a breeding ground for several diseases.
According to Dr Minoo Fazilat, Consultant Gynaecologist at Fortis C-DOC Hospital, the unhygienic cloth can be a breeding habitat for various bacterial, fungal, urinary infections causing reproductive tract infections leading to infertility and negative psychological health impacts in life.
“Menstrual hygiene is a vital aspect of health education for adolescent girls. It is an important risk factor for reproductive tract infections. The adolescent girls should be educated to use disposable sanitary pads instead of cloth pieces during periods,” she adds.
Pinki, programme manager at the NGO Matri Sudha, which works for children’s nutrition and education and child rights, claimed she visited Education Minister Manish Sisodia’s office to take up the matter with him, but he was unavailable. “Now that the lockdown is over, the distribution of sanitary napkins should be resumed. But the Delhi government has not done anything about it. We have also tried to speak to officials, but there was no response,” she said.
When this newspaper got in touch with the officials in the education department, they dodged the query on why sanitary napkins are not being distributed in schools. Richa Sharma, Additional Director, Education, said some other officials are taking care of the issue, but did not disclose their names. Shailendra Sharma, Principal Advisor to Director, Education, said he was not in India and would ask someone from his team to get in touch with this reporter, but no one had contacted him till the time this report went to the press.
Pinki of Matri Sudha said in 2019-20, over Rs 18 crore was spent on sanitary napkins that were distributed to 7.7 lakh students in 764 government and government-aided schools. In 2020-2021, the amount reduced to Rs 7 crore and further to Rs 3 crore in 2021-2022.
A PIL has been filed in the Delhi High Court praying that the facility be restored.