The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Growing pains at early age
- Precocious puberty on the rise among city girls
Onset of secondary sex character is abnormal in girls before age seven and boys before nine


sex education
providing right kind of information to children on adolescent problems
parents must not expect their children to behave like an adult just because they have reached puberty
parents must be cautious if their children show inappropriate sexual behaviour

An eight-year-old student of a reputed school in central Calcutta fainted during morning prayers. On examination, doctors found she was passing through a phase of mental disturbance caused by early puberty ' a trend on the rise among children from well-off families...

With one per cent of Calcutta children showing signs of early puberty, it has become a matter of concern for school authorities, psychologists and parents. According to psychologists, such precociousness is fraught with ill-effects which expose children, particularly girls, to high risk, and good parenting is essential for handling children undergoing such change.

'Over-development of body and under-development of mind in a child, particularly in a girl, lead to many problems, including abuse,' psychologist Rima Mukherjee said.

Anxious parents, especially mothers, are approaching doctors to understand why their sons and daughters are becoming adolescent before time.

'Early puberty is not a disease but a growing phenomenon. In Calcutta, we are finding at least one pair of parents coming to us every month, seeking explanations for what has brought forward puberty in their children,' admitted Apurba Ghosh, director of the Institute of Child Health.

According to Ghosh, the cut-off age for puberty is coming forward almost every decade. He attributes this to better nutrition, and social factors like over-exposure to TV and environmental sexual stimulation. 'Early puberty is found generally among children from affluent families, rather than those from poor families,' Ghosh explained.

Doctors say that both early and delayed puberty are genetic ' children may have either early or delayed puberty if their parents did the same.

However, precocious puberty, which is the onset of secondary sex character before the cut-off year, which is eight years in females (currently, some are saying seven) and nine in boys, may be owing to pathological disorders. Precocious puberty is on the rise, according to city-based doctors.

Going by international cut-off years, girls may start menstruating at the age of 10.5 now, says gynaecologist Bikash Banerjee. Large numbers of girls in the city reportedly start menstruating at the age of nine and even eight, he said.

'Earlier, only one or two girls menstruated below the age of 10 in a year,' said Pradipta Kanungo, principal, Patha Bhavan, a co-educational school in south Calcutta. Waking up to the situation, the school will organise interactive sessions with parents.

Gillian D'Costa Hart, principal of Welland Gouldsmith, an English-medium school for girls in central Calcutta, said a meeting exclusively between the mothers of girls studying between Classes III and VII will be organised to discuss the problem.

'A large number of children across society experience the same problem but they don't get reported, as their parents do not have the awareness like their counterparts in English-medium schools,' psychologist Mahua Ghosh said.

Email This Page