In 2007, India Let its Children Down
Exactly a year ago, the chopped remains of some children of daily wage earners and migrants were recovered from a drain in Nithari, a village on the outskirts of the Indian capital.
For a country with a child population of over 445 million, of whom 126 million are less than five years old, the unearthing of 20 dismembered bodies of missing kids at the fag end of 2006 was a shocking revelation of how India neglects its children. Most of children had been sexually abused and mutilated.
One year later, India continues to be among the worst performers in the world in terms of ensuring that children have the basic right to survive, even though policies and processes for their protection and development are in place.
As per Unicef's Progress for Children report released in December 2007, an estimated 2.1 million children in India died before their fifth birthday in one year. Of these, one million deaths were of neonates, or less than 29-day-old infants, from preventable causes. Globally, this means a quarter of all neo-natal deaths in the world occurred in India.
Among the surviving infants, 8.3 million infants were low weight babies (less than 2,500 grams), who got a disadvantaged start in life. Nearly 50 percent of these low weight babies died before their fifth birthday. In fact, about one-third of less-than-five-year-old underweight children in the world are in India.
The country has made significant advances towards eradication of polio but the programme suffered setbacks in 2007 with the virus continuing to circulate and resurface in some states like Bihar.
Quoting from the report, a Unicef advocacy and partnership official, said: "India has the largest number of children in the world who have not been vaccinated."
The country, however, is doing well with respect to providing safe drinking water, the key factor in ensuring child survival. It is estimated that 84.5 percent rural and 95 percent urban populations have sustainable access to safe drinking water.
But poor hygiene leading to diarrhoea and other diseases continues to take its toll on India's children. In 2004, an estimated 700 million people in India were not using improved sanitation facilities. According to the National Family Health Survey data (2005-06), only 45 percent of households in the country had access to improved sanitation.
On the education front, the news is mixed. Globally, the number of dropouts has declined significantly - from 115 million in 2002 to 93 million in 2005-06. Considering that six to 10 is the primary school age in India, 84 percent of children are attending school.
Gender parity in education is a challenge for India. For 100 boys in primary school, there are 96 girls and for 100 boys in secondary school, there are only 80 girls. Nearly all children out of school are engaged in different forms of labour.
It is estimated that while globally 158 million children aged between 5 and 14 work as labourers, India accounts for 18 percent of the world's burden - approximately 29 million.
Said a Unicef spokesperson: "Much like the public outcry that ensued following the discovery of children's remains in Nithari, a similar alacrity is needed to ensure that India's children get their due. To make India fit for children, a social movement is the need of the hour."
The Nithari case is still in court while the accused - Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surinder Koli - are in police custody.
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