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A report on the current status of children in India

Socio-economic disparities have plagued India since time immemorial. From the exploitation of peasants by Zamindars in the Mughal era to concentration of wealth and influence today, the plight of the lower strata of society has always been in stark contrast to the affluence of the upper class. However, the changing moral zeitgeist is revolutionizing the outlook of the haves towards the have-nots.


In India, the divide between the rich and the poor is glaringly discomforting. Little children begging at traffic signals, large stretches of slums interspersed with swanky skyscrapers, and the lugubrious circumstances of farmers bring to light the villainies of skewed development. The inequality is even more stunning if the statistics are explored. While this 3rd largest economy of Asia has grown at 9% in the last four years, 50% of the wealth is owned by only 10% of the population. A striking contrast is offered by the fact that Mumbai alone has more billionaires than all of Scandinavia, and yet about half the population of the megapolis lives in slums. India ranks 94th out of 118 nations in the Global Hunger Index. Even by 2000 (ten years after adopting economic neo-liberalism), coexisting with half the world’s hungriest people on the Indian Subcontinent were more than 50 million tonnes of surplus grain.


Today, several charity-funded non-profit organizations are working alongside government agencies to bring some stability to the accelerating imbalance in the Indian society. Addressing issues related to under-privileged children is an important subset of such activities. Appropriate grooming in the formative years is helping empower the young generation with the skills and knowledge to take control of their lives. However, while the potential exists, with even a modest financial aid from the bourgeoning upper/upper-middle class, to transform primary education, health, and sanitation among children in India, there is a concerning lack of interest, trust and urgency in the situation at hand. International aid covers only about US$1 per primary school-age child.


It is surprising how most of the urban population is unaware of the devastating state of affairs prevalent just outside their protected cities.



Almost half of all children under the age of 5 suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition. 46% children under the age of 3 are too small for their age, and at least 16% show signs of wasting. Anaemia affects 74% of all children under the age of three, and a shocking 90% of all adolescent girls. Preventable diseases like diarrhoea and respiratory infections continue to be leading causes of death among children. HIV infects about 220,000 children with nearly 60,000 being added each year1.


Every third malnourished child in the world is from India. The under-five mortality rate in the country is 78.6 deaths per 1000 live births2, which is below the world average.

A country where medical tourism is opening up new avenues of prosperity, children of poor families continue to die from vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and tetanus.



In 2006, India and Pakistan together had about 14 million out-of-school children. By the beginning of 2009, 20% of all Indian children aged between 6 and 14 were still not in school.  Inadequate facilities and a severely impoverished environment at the 700,000 rural schools of the country frustrate the children’s attempts to have equal access to education. Only one in six rural schools is equipped with toilets creating a severe resistance around sending girl children to school. An acute shortage of seating only exacerbates the already dismal situation. The most under-qualified and untrained teachers cater to the poorest and most deprived children, further widening the gap between the privileged and the under-privileged. Further, a shocking absenteeism rate of 27% is costing the Indian government about US$2 billion per year.


Less than 25% of all enrolled children in India attend a grade commensurate with their age. Moreover, according to a 2007 survey, less than half of the children in grade 3 could read a text designed for grade 1. Further, only 38% of the students in grade 4 could subtract or divide. Higher education tells a similarly dismaying story with only a  12% enrolment rate.


Child Labour

A shocking 12.6 million children engaged in hazardous occupation make India home to the largest population of child labourers under the age of 14 in the world.


Such audacious injustices manifest themselves in various forms of social evil. Despite the disconsolate picture painted by the statistics above, the winds of change are already blowing. Between 1999 and 2006, there has been a significant improvement in the participation rate in pre-primary education. Similarly, the enrolment in higher education in the Indian Subcontinent increased from 7% in 1999 to 11% in 2006. Gender disparities have also declined making a significant stride towards gender parity in primary education. With sufficient help from the capable and responsible Indian in terms of financial aid and volunteering activities, it is possible to eradicate this social evil and help everyone on board the bus to true freedom.



  1. Data as of 31 December 2008
  2. Data as per the 2006 revision of the United Nations World Population Prospects Report, for the period 2005-2010.