Children of a lesser God
January 29, 2009
It’s a human tragedy of massive proportions that everyone seems aware of but is clueless about combating.
In Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state and the only one currently to be run by a woman, women run the highest risk of maternal mortality. Last week, UNICEF came out with another devastating report which said the state is the “riskiest state” for babies, especially newborns and mothers.
In its ‘State of the World’s Children 2009’ report, it has also termed the state “the riskiest place for a woman to have a baby in India. In Uttar Pradesh, a woman has a one in 42 lifetime risk of maternal death, compared to a probability of just one in 500 for women in Kerala”.
Only a week before UNICEF presented its report to Governor T.V. Rajeswar, Vice-President Hamid Ansari had curtly remarked at a function in Lucknow that “being born in Uttar Pradesh reduces one’s lifespan by several years. It would seem that the state you are born into determines how long you would live”. Quoting data produced by the National Family Health Survey 2005-06, the vice-president said: “Indeed the picture that has emerged is very distressing.”
The UNICEF report highlights the link between maternal and neo-natal survival, and suggests opportunities to close the gap between rich and poor countries. This is not the first report to paint a gloomy picture.
Six months ago, the state Planning Department had brought out a firstever report titled ‘The State of Children in Uttar Pradesh’. That too made for depressing reading. The study, jointly conducted with UNICEF, revealed that 52 per cent of the state’s children were severely malnourished while the all-India figure was 43. It also revealed that while the percentage of malnutrition among children was just 35 in the least developing world, the figure for sub-Saharan Africa was 28 per cent. South Asia as whole has a 42 per cent child malnutrition rate as against 26 per cent in developing countries.
Last year, when the Uttar Pradesh Government came out with a report stating the per capita income in the state had jumped by 4.03 per cent, two-year-old Shaheena Parveen, who weighed three kg, breathed her last. Days before she collapsed, her twoyear-old neighbour, Sahabuddin, had died.
Malnutrition: An area of darkness
52% Uttar Pradesh
35% Least developing countries
42% South Asia
26% Developing countries average
25% World average
Several other children in Dhannipur village in Varanasi await a similar fate. Suffering from malnutrition, most of them are children of weavers whose looms once churned out saris. Now out of work, they’re unable to provide their children with proper meals. But Dhannipur is perhaps just a microcosm of the entire state.
Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) quotes a state government survey to say that 540 children are still suffering from Grade III and Grade IV malnutrition.
Last year, Bijo Francis of the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission circulated a report worldwide saying, “When he (Sahabuddin) died, he weighed six kg. This is Grade III malnutrition (often categorised as severe), a condition that exists in places like Somalia.”
Malnutrition is associated with half of the total number of child deaths and Uttar Pradesh accounts for over 10 million of India’s 72 million malnourished children.
Besides this, it is learnt that nearly 40 per cent of primary school dropouts have been denied mid-day meals provided by the government and other voluntary agencies.
The state Government has some tough paradoxes to deal with. Despite its 40-million-tonne foodgrain production, over 30 per cent of the state’s 17-crore population barely manage to get a single meal in a day.
According to the Planning Commission’s ‘UP Development Report’, even though the state is the largest producer of foodgrain, the per capita production is lower than other states.
Infant mortality rate in Uttar Pradesh
Every sixth undernourished Indian child lives in Uttar Pradesh
Every second child in Uttar Pradesh is undernourished
Every third infant has a low birth weight i.e. below 1,200 gm
It’s not just the numbers that are scary. Dr M.Z. Idris, head of the department, community medicine, King George Medical College, Lucknow, adds, “Malnutrition stops total growth of the child, affecting the economic growth of the state or the country.”
But these are not the only issues. The state accounts for the highest number of child abuse and child labour cases besides widespread Japanese Encephalitis (JE), mainly in Purvanchal. JE has turned out to be the biggest killer of children every year.
Last year, over 467 children died and 2,226 were admitted in Gorakhpur Medical College due to JE.
Yet the Government’s concerns are not reflected in its actions. When JE sowed panic in the state, the state Government decided to transfer all its JE specialists. Dr Sanjay Srivastava, one of the founders of Action for Peace, Prosperity and Liberty, says he was taken aback because a court order mentions retaining JE specialists.
Clearly, Uttar Pradesh has turned into a land of threatened children. The UNICEF report should ideally be a wakeup call for the state Government. The tragedy is that for Shaheena, Sahabuddin and thousands of other children, it is already too late.
From India Today Archives
June 9, 2008: Birth of hope
Consumed by hunger
URL for this article :
@ Copyright 2008 India Today Group.