One of the youngest, most resource-rich and forested states of India, Chhattisgarh has a population of about 25 million, more than three-quarters of which live in rural and remote parts of the state. Many of them are tribal groups working in small farming communities, known for their ancient traditions and intricate handicrafts. However, it is agriculture that offers basic sustenance to the people here, while poverty and isolation are ongoing challenges for many communities.
Many of Chhattisgarh’s most disadvantaged people live in distant and forested districts that remain poorly served by social services and have lower levels of human development. In Chhattisgarh, nearly 21,600 children die annually within the first week of their lives and one child in four under three years of age suffer from wasting due to acute undernutrition. While neonatal mortality stands at about 57 per cent, only 54 out of 1,000 deliveries are recorded as live births. More than half of adolescent girls in the state suffer from anaemia.
Challenges also exist in water safety, sanitation, school enrolment and quality of education, while violence in civil strife affected districts of Bijapur, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bastar and Kanker make outreach and provision of social services difficult.
UNICEF in partnership with the State Government and civil society is nonetheless making significant progress with a range of programmes. These include initiatives to track and treat malnourished children, strengthen health and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) services, support health and immunization camps in difficult to reach areas, participative programming with adolescent youth, life skills education and advocating for psycho-social interventions in areas affected by civil strife.
Initiatives such as ‘Sports for Development’ and psycho-social support like arts-based therapy have been promoted by UNICEF in partnership with government and civil society groups to schoolchildren in districts affected by civil strife to help them overcome trauma, dislocation and stress.
Other unique UNICEF initiatives include the Community Alert programme, a community monitoring system for grievance redressal to help villagers get better access to government services, and a Child Reporters programme, which encourages children to write about issues affecting them and their communities in their own bi-monthly newspaper.
Challenges and opportunities
There are a number of challenges facing the children of Chhattisgarh, of which child survival and development is possibly the most critical. Low coverage and quality of antenatal and postnatal care, high proportion of unsupervised home deliveries and delay in seeking health care for sick infants are the major factors contributing to newborn deaths. Lack of appropriate feeding habits for infants and inadequate reach and capacity of ICDS services add to the high levels of malnutrition in the state. Other key concerns include further enrolment and retention of girls in higher secondary school, tribal and scheduled caste children in schools that provide quality education, eradicating the practice of open defecation in fields, encouraging proper hygiene and guaranteeing a safe water supply.
Other challenges and opportunities:
• It is difficult to accurately monitor child survival indicators such as the percentage of malnourished children, infant deaths, number of at-risk mothers and children, and the status of equipment at village health centres.
UNICEF in Action
A UNICEF field office was established in Chhattisgarh as recently as 2006 and efforts are underway to identify, understand and address a range of concerns unique to the state and its people. Programmes supported by UNICEF include the creation of a nutritional surveillance system that tracks malnourished children and helps provide them with the programmes and services needed to restore their health.
UNICEF works closely with the Government of Chhattisgarh to reach out to far-flung communities with initiatives such as the Child Health Protection Months. However, the focus is now on strengthening local service delivery through Village Health and Nutrition Days for delivering a package of health and nutrition services to children that include vitamin supplements, growth monitoring and immunization against diseases.
In schools, UNICEF has supported a range of programmes, including the introduction of activity-based learning systems in thousands of primary schools. With a pilot programme currently running in many classrooms, UNICEF is advocating multilingual education in schools attended predominantly by tribal students.
UNICEF initiatives include:
Child Protection and Education
UNICEF State Office for Chhattisgarh
Tel: 91 0771 404-5214, 404-5074