While rich Indian industrialists rush into the Global billionaires’ list – their images polished by PR firms masquerading as mainstream media – the latest End of Childhood Index report, prepared by Save the Children, paints a horrific scenario for children in India in key areas such as child malnutrition, child labour, child marriage and early pregnancy.

India ranks 116 among 172 nations on the index.  At 48 million, India has the largest number of children under the age of 5 in the world who are moderately to severely stunted. Also in India, one-third of girls aged 15-19 are stunted.

Compare this with the wealth of Indian industrialists, who are portrayed by the media and Indian politicians as success stories of Indian capitalism: Mukesh Ambani of Reliance is worth Rs 1,51,299 crore. The Adani Group founder Gautam Adani is worth Rs 42410 crore.  Founder of mobile wallet Paytm Vijay Shekhar Sharma is worth of Rs 8,481 crore. According to Forbes, India has as many as 101billionaaires. Yet 39 % of the children in India are malnourished!

Looking at worldwide trends, stunting inequalities persist or are increasing in most countries. An analysis of developing countries with comparable trend data since 2000 shows that gaps between the poorest 20 percent and richest 20 percent of children under 5 have widened in 21 out of 35 countries.

The End of Childhood Index shows that globally, there are 156 million children under age of five who are stunted because of malnutrition, which is about a quarter of all the children in that age group. The percentage of children who are stunted in India is 39 percent, the highest after Yemen at 47 percent, Pakistan at 45 percent and the Democratic Republic of Congo at 43 percent.

The report said that “stunting” is a condition that “prevents children from developing to their full potential, both mentally and physically” when a child does not get enough food and nutrients. It is caused because of chronic malnutrition in first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

“Chronic malnutrition at this stage of life is largely irreversible, and stunted children face a lifetime of lost opportunities in education and work. They are also more likely to succumb to illness and disease, and can die as a result. Nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 are attributable to undernutrition. Chronic malnutrition is often referred to as “hidden” hunger because it doesn’t garner headlines in the same way that severe acute malnutrition does in a food crisis,” the report says.

The report pointed out that the stunting rates are higher for boys than girls, even though the preference for boys in South Asia means that boys are usually fed better than the girls, which leads to widespread stunting in adolescent girls.

For 700 million children around the world, according to the report, childhood ends for a host of reasons including poor health, conflict, extreme violence, child marriage, early pregnancy, malnutrition, exclusion from education and child labour.

India’s neighbours — Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Myanmar ranked higher on the Index, while Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal were even lower down in the index.

The report said that one girl under 15 gets married every seven seconds, globally, and a girl gives birth every two seconds. Half of the world’s adolescent births occur in just seven countries — Bangladesh, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and the United States.

“Every year, around 17 million girls give birth, forcing them to assume adult responsibilities and putting their health, education and economic prospects at risk. Most births to adolescents (95 percent) occur in developing countries, and 9 in 10 of these births occur within marriage or a union,” the report said. More than 21 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married in India.

The report also pointed out that early childbearing is the cause of huge economic losses to nations.

According to the report, over two-thirds of the world’s stunted children live in nine countries:  India 39%  Pakistan 45%  Nigeria 33%  Indonesia 36%  Ethiopia 38%  DR Congo 43%  Bangladesh 36%  Philippines 30%  Tanzania 34%

Read the full report: https://www.savethechildren.in/sci-in/files/d1/d14f6726-6bca-431c-9529-ce3b316ea136.pdf