Unicef ranks India poorly in child mortality

Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh fare better

By Sonal Matharu
Published: Friday 02 March 2012

India is now ranked among the 50 nations with highest under-five child mortality rate. It has been placed at number 46 in the list of 193 countries. India’s neighbours Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh protect their newborns much better and rank 52, 59 and 61 respectively, according to Unicef’s latest ranking. The report—State of the world’s children 2012: children in an urban world— was released on February 29. It notes that over half the world’s people, including more than a billion children, now live in cities and towns. While many children enjoy the advantages of urban life, many are denied essentials such as electricity, clean water and health care–even though they may live close to these services.

“Children living in urban slums are forced to do dangerous and exploitative work without being able to attend school. They face constant threat of eviction, even though they live under the most challenging conditions in ramshackle dwellings and overcrowded settlements that are acutely vulnerable to disease and disaster,” the report states.

Forced to migrate to work

Highlighting the migration patterns of children, especially in the developing countries, the report says a significant number of children and young people move within countries on their own. An analysis of census and household data from 12 countries found that one in five migrant children are aged between 12 and 14 and half of those aged 15 to 17 had moved away from their homes without a parent.

“Many of these children grow up in impoverished rural areas where it is common to travel to seek work in order to supplement family income, whether for part of each year, during lean periods or for longer durations. At least four million children are thought to migrate seasonally, whether by themselves or with their families, in India alone,” the report notes.

Substantiating the fnding, Akhila Sivadas, executive director at Centre For Advocacy and Research (CFAR), a non-profit says, “Delhi in 2008 enumerated the urban households and found several households that are run only by children, as there are no adults in the house.” Stressing that urban poverty must be looked at holistically, she adds, “We have to replace the conventional way of classifying poor and understand poverty in the urban context. We cannot anymore ignore urban health. Urban poor get hidden in all kinds of attempts to classify poverty as below poverty line and above poverty line.” In India, 367.5 million people live in urban areas, making 30 per cent of the population. By 2050, 7 in 10 people will live in urban areas.

Indian children unfit

The report also gives disturbing figures for health and malnutrition status of children in India. Twenty-eight per cent of infants in India have low birth weight and 48 per cent under the age of five are stunted.

Citing the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), the report says, “In eight cities in India from 2005 to 2006 levels of under-nutrition in urban areas continued to be very high. At least a quarter of urban children under five were stunted, indicating that they had been undernourished for some time. Income was a significant factor.”

The report notes that adolescent girls and women continue to suffer from discrimination and lack of empowerment in the country as 47 per cent of women are married by the time they turn 18 years old. As per 2010 data used in the report, 22 per cent women in India give birth before they turn 18. Only 41 per cent women initiate early breastfeeding.

“Malnourishment among adolescent girls is very high. With that, the families follow traditional practices of marrying girls early. These girls bear children when their bodies are not even ready and many of them die during childbirth. Maternal mortality is also high in areas where the practice of early marriage prevails,” says Seema Gupta, regional director (reproductive and child health), Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI).

Blaming weak adolescent health programmes in the country, Gupta adds that not just girls, the families must be counselled on the consequences of early marriage of girls. Also, some vocational courses for girls should be added so that they can get employment.

In a patriarchal society where women are vulnerable to exploitation and violence, it is hardly surprising that many women justify their husbands beating them. Fifty-four per cent women justify wife beating as against 51 men. The numbers are higher for adolescent males at 57 per cent and 53 per cent for adolescent women.

“For overall development of women and children in urban slums, interventions must start early,” says Sivadas. She adds, there should be a single window delivery system for all government services. If one scheme does not work properly, the child will not benefit from the others as well. Like with mid-day meal, water, sanitation, education, all should go together.

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