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Status of children in India

Some findings from NFHS- 3

As India races towards achieving superpowerdom, its children are still far behind in terms of healthcare, education and other facilities. Children especially girls are faced with lack of educational opportunities, malnourishment, infant mortality and early marriages. According to the latest data collated by the National Health Survey 2005-06 the all India average for malnourished children is 47%.Every second child under 5 years is malnourished. Even the prosperous states like Gujarat and Kerala there is rise in the number of malnourished children. Both states saw an increase of 2% between 1991-2001.Other states for instance Madhya Pradesh registered a rise from 54% in 1991 to 60% in 2001.

Nearly 3/4ths of all infants between 6-35 months of age are anemic in the 19 states for which NFHS -3 data are available. Among all the children up to 3 years age over 1/3 are stunted and more than 1/6th are wasted. Two out of five children are underweight. This state of the youngest Indians point towards pervasive malnutrition. For most of these infants, malnutrition would have started in the womb itself. This is apparent from the data on married and pregnant women. An astounding 54% of pregnant women and nearly the same proportion of married women were found anemic. Infact the Body Mass Index (ratio of weight to height- a measure of nutritional availability) of nearly 1/3rd of all women was below normal.

What is alarming that the situation is worsening or at best not improving over the years. Comparison with NHFS-2 carried out five years ago shows that the proportion of wasted children has increased while underweight children are only marginally less. Similarly the proportion of anemic infants has marginally increased. The number of pregnant women who are anemic has jumped from about 49% to over 54% in these five years in these 19 states. The prevalence of anemia among infants has declined in several states but it has not improves or even worsened in AP, Assam, Karnataka, Kerala, Meghalaya, Orissa, Punjab and UP. In no state has the proportion fallen below 50%.Up, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, Gujarat and Assam all have shockingly high proportions of anemic infants-80% or above.

Incidentally nearly a third of married men in the eastern states of W.Bengal,Orissa,Assam and Meghalaya and in highly advanced Gujarat are anemic and have lower than normal BMI.Chattisgarh has the highest number of underweight children closely followed by Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. However while the numbers have declined in the former, they are increasing in the latter two over the past five years.

Another indicator is high infant mortality rate where India is bettered by Pakistan, China, Brazil and even Nigeria. The all- India average is 58 infant deaths for every 1000 live births and states like Uttar Pradesh (73), Rajasthan (65), Arunachal Pradesh (61) and Gujarat (50) top the list.

An immunization level is one of the indicators which show serious concern. The NFHS shows that only in six of the 19 states for which data has been made public are more than 60% of children fully immunized. In 8 states the proportion of fully immunized children is less than half.

Not only do children have fewer chances of surviving and are underfed they also lack educational opportunities. Literacy rate among girls from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes is 42% and 35% respectively, much lower than Muslim girls who have a literacy rate of 50%.In general too only 30 of 100 girls who enter school complete their primary education. The worst offenders in lack of educational opportunities for girls are Bihar (33%), Arunachal Pradesh (33.4%), Sikkim (37.2%) and Rajasthan (38.2%) as opposed to an all India average of 55.6%.Meghalaya is an exception where female literates are actually much more than their male counterparts.

Early marriages are far from being eradicated. In Rajasthan, 41% girls get married between 15-19 years of age while in Punjab; the proportion of girls being married before 18 has risen from 12% to 19% in seven years, between 1998-99 to 2005-06.

Table - 1

State Kids below 2yrs fully immunized
UP 22.9
Rajasthan 26.5
Arunchal 28.4
Assam 31.6
Meghalaya 32.8
Gujarat 45.2
Andhra Pradesh 46.0
Chattisgarh 48.7
Orissa 51.8
Karnataka 55.0

Table - 2

  Anemic infants Anemic pregnant women
States NFHS-3 NFHS-2 NFHS-3 NFHS-2
Assam76.7 63.272.0 62.3
Karnataka82.7 70.659.5 48.6
Kerala55.7 43.933.1 20.3
Arunchal66.3 54.549.2 49.2
Uttar Pradesh85.1 73.851.6 45.8
AP79.0 72.356.4 41.8
Gujarat80.1 74.560.8 47.4
Orissa 74.2 72.368.1 60.5
Meghalaya 68.7 67.6 56.1 58.6
Punjab 80.2 80.041.6 37.1

Some of the harsh facts

  • Every second child under 5 years is malnourished.

  • 1 in 4 adolescent girls between 15-19 years is married.

  • 30 of 100 girls who enter school do not complete primary –level education

  • 50% of new AIDS infections are between 15-24 years.

  • Worst offenders are Bihar ,Arunchal Pradesh,Sikkim and Rajasthan

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