India has banned television adverts for condoms during primetime hours, citing rules against content that “endangers the safety of children” and promotes “unhealthy practices”.
The information and broadcasting ministry ordered the country’s estimated 900 television channels to restrict condom commercials to between 10pm and 6am to avoid children seeing them.
It said the order was prompted by complaints that “some channels carry advertisements of condoms repeatedly which are alleged to be indecent, especially for children”.
The ministry cited 1994 rules banning commercials that “endanger the safety of children or create in them any interest in unhealthy practices or show them begging or in an undignified or indecent manner”.
Regulations also prohibit “indecent, vulgar, suggestive, repulsive or offensive themes” in advertisements, it said.
Family planning advocates said they were disappointed by the order in a country where awareness of condoms’ benefits is high but their use remains stubbornly low – limited to about 5% of men.
“[It is] poised to undo decades of progress on sexual and reproductive health,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India.
Sterilisation is by far the most popular method of contraception in India, especially in rural areas, but the procedure is almost always carried out on women and often in dangerous conditions.
Though big cities such as Mumbai are dotted with advertisements for condoms, sex is still a taboo subject for many Indians and even kissing scenes are sometimes cut from popular films.
The country’s notoriously prudish censors have also previously ordered the word condom to be bleeped out in movies.
Muttreja said restricting TV adverts was the wrong approach in the digital age.
“Children today have access to various channels of media and information with a lot of content that we have no control over,” she said in a statement.
“What we need is a more sensitive approach without compromising on information and advocating for sexual and reproductive choice.
“If advertisements are a way to create the demand for safe sex and family planning, then we need to ensure that it is not stifled by restrictions.”
Billboards featuring the former porn actor Sunny Leone advertising condoms before the Hindu festival of Navratri were pulled down in September after protests in Gujarat state.
India’s largest trade body was among the groups objecting to the advert, which it said put “India’s cultural value at stake”.
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