Report on children to make dismal reading
Apratim Mukarji
(New Delhi,December 26)

IN A few weeks' time, India will have to explain to the world the conditions in which its 380 million children are faring. The report card to be submitted to the Child Rights Convention (CRC) Committee of the United Nations in Geneva is expected to make unhappy reading.

Consider the following: 53 per cent of India's children are malnourished. The figure is almost twice the rate reported in the sub-Saharan African countries, which was till the other day, the poorest region in the world.

Scheduled castes and tribal children account for as much as 57 per cent of the country's total 60 million malnourished children below 5 years.

While 60 per cent of the underweight children are found in UP, Bihar, West Bengal, MP and Maharashtra, underweight children account for 69 per cent of the total number of malnourished children in the country.

The Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) continues to be starkly different in urban and rural areas and between boys and girls. These figures depict an unacceptably uneven state of development.

While the IMR in rural India continues to be higher than that in urban India, the Indian child faces one of the worst survival conditions in urban slums. A survey conducted in 1989 in Bombay reveals that the IMR in urban slums was 123 per thousand live births against the all-India IMR of 98. The survey reported an all-India urban IMR of 62 and an IMR of 22 for above-poverty line urban households. The position has hardly improved.

The girl child continues to lose out in the survival game in UP where the IMR for her is 102 against 91 for the boy. The ratios in other States are no better: Haryana (72/67), Punjab (58/53), Bihar (72/69) and Rajasthan (84/82).

The Centre of Concern for Child Labour (CCCL), a non-governmental organisation, says, "The mortality rate between 1 and 4 years reflects both malnutrition and common infectious diseases. It is noted that girls die at a rate of 50 per cent more than boys. This is evident from the imbalances in the 1991 Census, which showed boys outnumbering the girls."

The CCCL will submit its report on the implementation of the CRC to the UN Committee next month.

As the gap between the Indian Government's policies for children and their implementation widens, the CCCL suggests a number of measures to improve the conditions.

They include, a national plan for children from the perspective of children's economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, identifying and fixing ministerial responsibility for its implementation at both the Central and State levels, a change in the Indian mindset to children's rights and independent monitoring of the progress on children's rights.

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