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The status of children in India- Findings of UNICEF 2005 report

According to the recent UNICEF report titled "Childhood under Threat" over one billion children have been denied their childhood. Many factors including widespread poverty and AIDS have failed to fulfill the goals on their improvement. Their right to a healthy life has remained a distant dream by the failure of governments to carry out human rights and economic reforms. It is reported that some 640 million children lack adequate shelter; 400 million have no access to safe drinking water; 270 million lack health care amenities and 140 million especially girls have remained outside the ambit of formal schooling. More than 150 million children are malnourished worldwide. This 2005 report reveals startling facts about children in India. According to it Indian children are deprived of their rights to survival, health, nutrition, education and safe drinking water. About 63 per cent of them go without food and 53 per cent suffer from chronic malnutrition. About 147 million children live in kuchcha houses, 77 million do not have access to drinking water from a tap, 85 million do not get immunized, 27 million are severely underweight and 33 million have never been to school. India continues to have the highest number of malnourished children under five in the world. Every third new-born child in India is under-weight having the risk of impaired health and brain development.

The Supreme Court under a previous ruling had said that children's right to dignified existence must be protected. The court also directed the government to work out a welfare scheme for the children working in pathetic conditions in hazardous industries. According to the Child Mortality Evaluation Committee's report around 160,000 infants died every year in Maharashtra owing to malnutrition particularly in the rural, tribal and urban slum areas. Other states like Orissa, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh is facing a similar situation where a number of starvation deaths among children took place. India has the largest number of illiterates in the world, two-thirds of whom are girls. There is no doubt that the overall literacy rate in India has increased to 65.4 per cent from 52.2 per cent in 1991. Even then, 72 million children in India between five and 14 years do not have access to basic education. Their number was 105.7 million in 1991 which has increased to manifold times in next decade. UP, Bihar, MP, Orissa and Rajasthan have a higher proportion of out-of-school children.

Children in developing countries are the worst victims of ill-health owing to infectious diseases. Over eight million children in the world die every year from the five killer diseases - pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, tetanus and whooping cough. UNICEF Report says that despite the immunization programme against these diseases, 2.4 million Indian children perished in states like Rajasthan, UP and MP which accounted for more than 50 per cent of infant deaths. The rate of infant mortality (IMR) reflects on the general health and economic conditions of a country. It represents the number of babies who die before the age of one out of every 1,000 live births.

UNICEF's report ranks India 49th in child mortality. Poverty, unhygienic environment and malnutrition among women in the reproductive age group are the main contributing factors for India's high rate. Around 25 to 30 million children in India spend their lives on the streets in a poisonous environment. Street children suffer neglect and are often abused and exploited. They suffer from ill-health and become victims of infectious diseases. The UNICEF report says that 26 million children in the world suffer from brain damage due to iodine deficiency. In India, there are 6.6 million children having a damaged brain from iodine deficiency.

The National Family Health Survey has revealed that over 70 per cent of the children in many states suffer from iron deficiency. In India, 1.5 million children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency against 40 million the world over. Children of poor socio-economic groups mostly suffer from this affliction, and the incidence is higher in remote tribal and rural areas and urban slums. A girl child is the worst victim as she is the one who is often neglected and discriminated against because of the preference for a boy child in traditional Indian society. Many of them in the low social status group die of malnutrition while many suffer from infectious diseases. Child marriage is another social evil. Early marriage causes early child bearing, resulting in physical stress on the teenage mother and underweight babies. This in turn accounts for a high infant mortality rate. Children are considered an asset of a nation, and their welfare reflects the nation's prosperity and economic development. However this report presents the darker view of conditions of millions of children in India. No wonder the Delhi High Court has criticized the central government for utilizing hardly 10 per cent of the funds provided under ICDS for the benefit of under-privileged children.

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