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Early Childhood (Children below six)

CHILD Protection & Child Rights » Vulnerable Children » Children's Issues » Early Childhood (Children below six)

Early Childhood (Children below six)
"It has been suggested that the first question the Indian Prime Minister should ask his ministers is not "how is the economy growing?" but rather "how are the children growing?"." - Citizen's Initiative for the Rights of Children under Six (CIRCUS) (2006)

The vulnerability of children begins from before they are born. Poor ante-natal and maternal care and nutrition put the average Indian child at risk for medical complications at birth or disability once born. There is also risk to the woman as one third of expectant mothers in India do not have access to a basic tetanus vaccination. NFHS-3 recorded that 23 % of women do not receive a single ante-natal check-up, while 52 % of women give birth without assistance from a health professional. A high rate of anaemia and low body mass index (BMI) of mother's results in low birth weight of children and hence leads to malnutrition. NFHS-3 reports that 58% of women are anaemic and 33% of women have a BMI of less than 18.5.

After birth, the child continues to face health challenges. Approximately one third of new born babies are below the acceptable 2.5 kilograms of weight. NFHS-3 reported that 77% of new-borns are not breastfed without the hour of birth. This first step in nutrition is vital for the healthy development of the child. Undernourished refers to the below optimal weight a child is for his/her age; 46% of young children classify as undernourished. Stunted refers to the below optimal height a child is for his/her age; 38% of young children are stunted. Lastly, Wasted refers to the below optimal weight a child a child is for his/her given height; 19% of young children are wasted. Depravity of immunizations also leads to various health problems, most common being fever (indicating an illness), diarrhoea, and acute respiratory infection. Early Childhood (Children below six)

Percentage of children age 12-23 months with the following characteristics

NFHS-2 (1998-99)

NFHS-3 (2005-06)

Not fully vaccinated

58

56

Not vaccinated at all

14

n/a

Suffering from anaemia

74

76

NFHS-2 estimated 58% of children were not fully vaccinated. NFHS-3 puts this figure at 56%. The data shows little significant change in the seven year span between the two NFHS surveys. When compared on the child development indicators India is lagging behind. For example, Bangladesh a country far poorer than India is showing marked improvements in infant mortality rates and other child development indicators. This is not indicating that Bangladesh is a haven for human development. But indicators show that they are improving in various sectors at a far greater rate than India. This is proof of a fundamental problem with India's development strategy. Early Childhood (Children below six)

UNICEF Data 2004

Bangladesh

India

Immunization (% of children under three who have not received the stated vaccine)

BCG

5

27

DTP3

15

36

MCV

23

44

Pol3

15

30

Human Development Report 2004

Bangladesh

India

Infant and Child mortality (per 1,000 live births)

Infant Mortality Rate

56 (91 in 1990)

62 (80 in 1990)

Under-five Mortality Rate

77

76

When we examine India's education statistics the story is not any brighter. Ministry of Human Resource Development in a 2006-2007 survey reported that 25.6% of children drop out of school before they reach the fifth standard. In a Times of India Early Childhood (Children below six) article they reported that in 1991 there was a primary school dropout rate of 41.9% (boys 40.1%, girls 46%) which had not much improved in 2001, 40.67% (boys 39.7%, girls 41.9%). Meaning after 10 years and several thousand crore spent on primary school education the state has only been able to bring down the dropout rate by 2%.

The well-being of India's children lies heavily in those first six years of a child's life. It is these beginning few years that will affect not only the growth, mental and physical health of the child but also his/her ability to become a responsible and well- adjusted citizen of the country. Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is the first and possibly the most important first step in creating a healthy child population.

In India, a number of national policies and programmes address the need of this vulnerable group:

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