Defining Youthhood

Is there an age-specific category called "youth"?

The most common way to define youth is through a classification based on age even though there has been little agreement on the age range that comprises youthhood.

International bodies and a few national governments have now recognized youth as a distinct category based on age. The World Bank considers those in the age group of 12-24 years as youth. The UN pegs this at 15-24 years and the Government of India at 15-35 years. Collectively, these cover the 12-35 age group with a range of 22 years!

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We believe that youthhood is the age between 15 to 24 years, a period of multiple transitions and dilemmas in a young person's life.

What are these transitions?

Transitions Of Youthhood
  • The period between 12-15 basically refers to puberty, early adolescence and living with parents.
  • The phase between 15 to 24 years is characterized by several transitions as a young person is building her career, forming new relationships and exercising citizenship rights.
  • After 24, the turbulence of transitions are replaced by a beginning of settling down in relationships, careers, sexuality, etc.

Is youthhood simply defined by age?

Age alone does not define the young. Youthhood is specially marked by a complex array of dilemmas and transitions about lifestyle, education, career, relationships, sexuality, citizenship and politics.

Often, we hear inspiring stories of young people achieving their dreams and making their parents and society proud.  On occasion, we also hear stories of students committing suicide under intense academic pressure, news stories of crimes by and against young people for reasons varied.

Each story is also a story of a transition to adulthood, reduced to either a success or a failure. What gets lost in between are the decisions that young people take, decisions about career, relationships, sexuality and citizenship, decisions that make a young person question the world around her, in her quest for identity, purpose and direction. 

Young people in India

There are 229 million young people in India. 19% of India's population falls within this age demographic. Where do they stand today?

15-24 year olds in India are hardly a uniform age group. Their identities are shaped by multifarious experiences of cultural factors that involve caste, class, gender, sexual orientation, linguistic strata, religious affilation, physical ability.  These factors bring with them different degrees of freedom depending on which a young person goes through experiences of oppression and privilege.

For example, a young Dalit man experiences both power and powerlessness on account of being "male" and on account of being "outcaste". For a Marwari woman in rural Rajasthan, or a Dalit woman on the periphery of Bangalore, a Christian homosexual man in the slums of Chennai, or an upper middle-class urban Muslim woman from Bombay, being young on account of age does not make the defining factor.