Children in Gujarat

The high prevalence of malnutrition, poor immunization coverage, declining sex ratio and child marriage continue to pose a challenge to improving children's lives..

Mother holding her baby.
UNICEF/UNI214746/Panjwani

The challenge

Though Gujarat has witnessed a significant decline in poverty and ranks third in economic growth, development has been inequitable. Tribal, coastal, desert and hilly areas still have high poverty levels above the State's average.

While universal primary education, gender equity in primary education and access to safe drinking water have increased, the neonatal mortality and maternal mortality rates have been slow to improve. The high prevalence of malnutrition, poor coverage of full immunization, the declining sex ratio and child marriage continue to pose a challenge to improving human development outcomes for every child in Gujarat.      

Gujarat has significantly reduced the under-five mortality rate, but the neonatal mortality rate is still high, contributing to 63 per cent under-five deaths. More girls than boys die.

Access to special newborn care units is improving but the quality of maternal and neonatal care is of major concern. Full immunization coverage remains low in remote communities, especially tribal, coastal and salt pan areas, as well as in urban slums and among migrant children. 

Though the level of stunting in children under five has reduced in Gujarat, about 39 per cent of children are still chronically undernourished or stunted. Wasting or acute malnutrition increased between 2006 and 2016, posing a risk to child survival. Only 50 per cent of children are breastfed within the first hour of birth.

Gujarat achieved 100 per cent open defecation free (ODF) Status between 2018-19 but sustaining this status in various communities remains a challenge. for example, some 83.2 per cent of schools have functional toilets continued maintenance is still a challenge. Although the State has made good progress in water provision, even in remote communities, high microbial and chemical contamination of water sources, especially in rural areas, constitutes a huge challenge.

Gujarat has made impressive progress in education especially around increased access, infrastructure and enrollment rates. Programmes like Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya and Eklavya tribal schools have ensured education reaches marginalized children, especially girls. The quality of elementary education remains a challenge.

Children dropping out of school is an issue in tribal, coastal, salt pan and hilly areas while in some communities child marriage also contributes to children, especially girls, dropping out. Ensuring quality early childhood education for every child is a challenge due to the low qualification of Integrated Child Development Services workers, private preschool teachers, inadequate monitoring system and unavailability of data.

Child marriage is still highly prevalent in Gujarat, girls in the poorest families four times more likely to marry early those in the highest wealth quintile. An estimated 24.9 per cent of women aged 20-24 years were married before the legal age of 18 years, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS - 4).

Other issues facing children include child labour, violence against children and lack of access to services for children in urban slums.

Advancing children’s rights and well-being

UNICEF is working together with the Gujarat State Government and key stakeholders to ensure children's rights and well-being.

Our programme strategies for 2018-22 are aligned with Gujarat's SDG Vision 2030, of which UNICEF has been a key partner and has contributed to. Gujarat is one of the few states that have taken concrete steps towards integrating human development issues into the planning process. In Gujarat UNICEF works with the private sector, government and UN agencies GAVI, medical colleges and civil society organizations.

UNICEF prioritizes interventions to address the gender gap and other inequities for child survival. We support improving the access and quality of skilled birth attendants, quality care and treatment of serious pregnancy-associated complications, access to and the outcomes of the special newborn care units.  

We work closely with the various ministries to support flagship programmes and development of guidelines and strategic plans for implementation of key nutrition interventions and programmes. UNICEF works for the effective implementation of the Mothers’ Absolute Affection (MAA) programme to improve breastfeeding practices. UNICEF has supported the piloting of the One Full Meal Scheme, an intervention to improve nutrition among pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

UNICEF aids implementation of the facility and community-based management of children with severe acute malnutrition. We also provide support to improve the coverage and quality of the Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) Programme for adolescent girls and women.

Our technical support focuses on institutional strengthening of Anganwadi Training Centres, including early childhood curriculum development. 

UNICEF prioritizes building integrated social protection systems encompassing both parents and children to reduce financial and social barriers to access education. Evidence-based advocacy is done to increase access to secondary education. We support state and district level mapping of out-of-school children and irregular children through the engagement of youth and community-based organizations. We collaborate with different state departments to use flexible, inclusive education models to reach out to out-of-school children and to keep at-risk children in school.

Through the development of a qualified child protection workforce we work on strengthening systems to keep children safe. Advocacy with the judiciary, civil society and the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights focuses on the robust implementation of key provisions of legislation related to the protection of children from exploitation, violence and abuse.

UNICEF supports linkages with social protection schemes, including the state-run Palak Mata Pita (foster care) scheme for children without family care and abandoned children. Our advocacy focuses on quality standards of care to be adopted and adhered to in residential care settings.         

Inclusive Social Policy is a new outcome area identified in the Country Programme 2018-22. We aim to strengthen integrated social policy and protection systems that effectively respond to children’s need and vulnerability.      

The menstrual hygiene management (MHM) intervention programme ensues in the Seth Shri S.R. Agarwal Vidyalaya (School), Pratapnagar, Nandot Block, District Narmada, Gujarat, India.
UNICEF/UN0269632/Hajra
The menstrual hygiene management (MHM) intervention programme ensues in the Seth Shri S.R. Agarwal Vidyalaya (School), Pratapnagar, Nandot Block, District Narmada, Gujarat, India.

The cross-cutting interventions of UNICEF’s programmes to address children's and women's rights across all programme areas are built around two life cycle phases – early childhood development (0-6 years) and adolescent empowerment (10-19 years). 

Under the umbrella of the Rashtriya Bal Suraksha Karyakram, UNICEF focuses on ensuring the survival of preterm and low birth weight babies discharged from the special newborn care units. This is supported by early identification of developmental delays and care at district early intervention clinics. UNICEF aims to increase the awareness of parents and caregivers on the importance of stimulation and early childhood education.

Gujarat is vulnerable to earthquakes, floods, cyclone, outbreaks like swine flu and drought. UNICEF supports the State in institutionalizing child-centered disaster risk assessments to map the vulnerability of children during disasters. This is a core area of our work on disaster risk reduction and it further strengthens the health systems, including emergency preparedness for public health emergencies and outbreaks. We support communities to be more resilient through increasing their awareness, knowledge and skills, such as on safe water, sanitation and hygiene practices, especially during times of stress.