Children in Maharashtra
Economic disparity still confronts the future of children of Maharashtra with their needs unaddressed, rights unrealized and potential thwarted.
Maharashtra is the second most populous state and the third most urbanised in the country. The state capital Mumbai is India's undisputed financial capital, yet about 50 per cent of its residents live in slums. The state attracts thousands of migrants from across the Country searching for work every year. The State is the wealthiest in terms of annual gross domestic product.
Despite the State's wealth, there are disparities in children's development outcomes. The poorest 20 per cent of children are twice as likely as the richest 20 per cent to be stunted by poor nutrition and to die before their fifth birthday. The Kelkar Committee surmised that the infant mortality rate of tribal areas in Maharashtra is 60-70 per cent higher than the state average. The richest 20 per cent of pregnant women are 1.2 times more likely than the poorest 20 per cent to have a skilled attendant present during child birth. Regardless of wealth, girls continue to be held back from schooling.
In Maharashtra one in every ten children are born with low weight, and one in every three mothers of under two year old children record a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 18.5, which increases the risk of low birth weight babies. Child survival indicators remain the last mile issue in tribal areas and urban slums.
The prevalence of child marriage is lower than the national average and mostly occurs among girls between 16 and 18 years. However, there are acute regional variations with 17 districts having higher child marriage prevalence than the state average.
Two districts, Thane and Nashik, have a high number of child workers. The vulnerability and exploitation of children performing in the media and entertainment industry that is concentrated in Mumbai is also of major concern. As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) the state reported a 71.5 per cent increase in crimes against children from 2014 to 2015. The state is also a destination for children trafficked for labour and commercial sexual exploitation from other states of India as well as other countries.
Advancing children’s rights and well-being
UNICEF in Maharashtra focuses on demand generation, strengthening the delivery of services, addressing equity gaps, improving quality of care and prioritising issues like services for the urban poor, early childhood development and adolescent empowerment. Special emphasis is given to reaching out to children in tribal pockets and urban slums to address deprivations.
Our work also looks at improving quality and coverage of preconception, antenatal and intrapartum care, and care in the newborn care units to address the issues of stillbirths, newborn deaths and long-term morbidity.
UNICEF supports improving the quality of care in special newborn care units, advocating also for the expansion of the units and scaling up kangaroo mother care, which is a method of care for pre-term infants. Further technical support is being provided to also scale up kangaroo mother care in the private sector by involving professional bodies and associations of health care providers. The programme promotes exclusive breastfeeding, handwashing with soap by care providers and home-based care of newborns.
UNICEF also engages with the Municipal Corporations in Mumbai, Malegaon and Bhiwandi to expand the coverage of health care services and improve the quality of antenatal care, care during delivery and postnatal care in urban slums.
Promoting routine immunization and prevention and treatment of pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria are also key priorities for our work. The immunization programme focuses on addressing coverage issues in urban slums and pockets of low immunization coverage, improving the quality of cold chain and supply chain systems.
UNICEF is committed to improving the lives of undernourished children in the state. The current focus is on reducing the number of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) children through collaborative action on capacity building and standardizing SAM case sheets. The nutrition programme focuses on strengthening systems by setting up centres of excellence in public health nutrition and creating and nurturing champions of change within the system. Priority is given to strengthening partnerships for innovation, data for improved decision making and improving the budgeting efficiency to influence policies and programmes for children, women and adolescents. UNICEF advocates for improving the coverage of the Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) programme targeting adolescent girls and women.
UNICEF supports various departments towards effective coordination, planning, implementation and monitoring of education programmes, especially for marginalised communities. Emphasis is on generating evidence and building capacity towards effective use of data, including on budgets for policy development, analysis and implementation of education programmes.
Our education programme focus is on supporting the State to improve the transition of children from elementary to secondary education while supporting systems to ensure that disadvantaged children benefit from social protection schemes. In partnership with civil society organisations, the programme is expanding the use of technology and online systems to improve governance in education, enhance capacities of teachers, activate teacher support systems and participation of children for enhanced learning and skills development. The programme invests in social and behaviour change communication approaches to influence social norms that have traditionally precluded children’s education, particularly of girls.
In close collaboration with state departments and community level institutions, the programme works to strengthen the design and implementation of existing cash transfer schemes that try to influence social norms around the value of girls, encourage their education and prevent child marriage.
UNICEF prioritises sustaining usage of toilets by focusing on capacity building for planning open defecation elimination, behaviour change and practices around safe disposal of child faeces, handwashing with soap at critical times by caregivers, and safe water handling and storage practices.
Across the state we are supporting the implementation of integrated drinking water safety and security plans given the increasing climatic variables and water scarcity. The programme provides support to State departments to develop and implement improvement plans under flagship schemes like Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya, Swachh Swasth Sarvatra and Kayakalp.
The programme strengthens systems by contributing to the development of a qualified child protection workforce and supports generating data and evidence on the performance of child protection statutory bodies, including Juvenile Justice Boards and child welfare committees. Support is given to strengthen public finance mechanisms for improved budgetary governance and accountability. UNICEF strengthens systems that prevent the institutionalization of children by advocating family or community care.
The health focus is on ensuring the survival of preterm and low birth weight babies discharged from special newborn care units through early identification of developmental delays and care at district early intervention clinics.
UNICEF works to ensure that infants and young children receive, in addition to adequate nutrition in the early years, quality care, stimulation and responsive interactions to promote their growth, cognitive and socio-emotional development. Advocacy is centred on setting up the state Early Childhood Care and Education Policy and promoting its implementation for ensuring school readiness among children.