Children in Kerala

Infant and neo-natal mortalities and prevalence of stunting among under 5 children are lowest and primary enrolment rates in schools are highest in the country.

Flood relief measures in Kerala.
UNICEF/UN0265485/Kolari

The challenge

Kerala is a state on the southwestern Malabar Coast of India. Spread over 38,863 km, Kerala is the twenty-third largest Indian state by area. It is bordered by Karnataka to the north and northeast, Tamil Nadu to the east and south, and the Lakshadweep Sea to the west. With 33,387,677 inhabitants as per the 2011 Census, Kerala is the thirteenth-largest Indian state by population. Malayalam is the most widely spoken language and is also the official language of the state.

Kerala has the lowest positive population growth rate in India, highest Human Development Index, highest literacy rate, highest life expectancy, and highest sex ratio. The state's coastline extends for 595 kilometres and around 1.1 million people in the state are dependent on the fishery industry which contributes 3% to the state's income.

Kerala is a pioneer in implementing the universal health care programme. Kerala's 13.3% prevalence of low birth weight is higher than that of many first world nations. Outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid among the more than 50% of people who rely on 3 million water wells is an issue worsened by the lack of sewers.        

Kerala is one of the pioneer states in India for initiating pro-poor policies and social protection programmes for children and women in the most marginalized communities. The state introduced progressive legislations and schemes such as social security measures, expansion of health, nutrition, WASH and education systems and public distribution system.      

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) designated Kerala the world's first "baby-friendly state" because of its effective promotion of breast-feeding over formulas. Over 95% of Keralite births are hospital delivered and the state also has the lowest Infant mortality rate in the country. The third National Family Health Survey ranks Kerala first in "Institutional Delivery" with 100% births in medical facilities.

Over the decades, these social policies were implemented effectively with high public investment in social sector and strong administrative structures and systems that facilitated effective planning and monitoring.  This significantly demonstrated impact on well-being of children in health, nutrition and education.  Infant and neo-natal mortalities and prevalence of stunting among under 5 children are lowest and primary enrolment rates in schools are highest in the country.

Advancing children’s rights and well-being

UNICEF focuses largely on enhancing social inclusion and strengthening enabling environment by developing convergent social policy approach and comprehensive systems that integrate efforts for greater impacts on child well-beings.

The substantial progress made in last couple of decades in improving outcomes for children and reducing multi-dimensional deprivations in Kerala, UNICEF state office for Kerala’s programme efforts focuses largely on enhancing social inclusion and strengthening enabling environment by developing convergent social policy approach and comprehensive systems that integrate efforts for greater impacts on child well-beings.

UNICEF State office aligns its social policy strategy, which are relevant for the ‘middle income country’ context, aims to enhance and build on existing systems within the state governments, the relevant line departments, State Child Rights Protection Commission and the local self-governments in both rural and urban areas.      

UNICEF works around the three pillars of social policy work - public finance for children, decentralization and child friendly local governance, and social protection for the vulnerable families and their children. These areas are applied to the sectoral interventions on child survival, child development, child protection and build on child participation.            

Youth advocate interacts with UNICEF India celebrity advocate Trisha Krishnan at ¬Stella Maris College, Amphitheatre in Chennai.
UNICEF/UN0342712/Kolari
Youth advocate interacts with UNICEF India celebrity advocate Trisha Krishnan at ¬Stella Maris College, Amphitheatre in Chennai.

The three pillars of social policy programme broadly focus on five key priorities:

Comprehensive approach to strengthen social protection systems for more integrated approach - for improvement of targeting most vulnerable, greater impact on child well-being and efficient and equitable spending for priorities – including emergency and reducing vulnerability and risks.

Going beyond child survival and access to early childhood education – develop comprehensive policy for early childhood development and programmes and financing model for all young children, from conception up to the age of school entry, achieve their developmental potential in equitable inclusive care environments, programme and policies, including in humanitarian setting. Children up to the age of school entry receive essential services including quality childcare, health, nutrition, protection and early learning services to address their developmental needs.

A comprehensive policy and programme that support adolescents and young people to reach their full potential as productive and active members of society. Working on people’s agency, focuses on bringing together public and private partners – as well as young people - to identify and scale solutions. Opportunities and programme linkages are created for adolescents and young people to access to develop skills for learning, employability and active civic engagement.

Focusing on transition to secondary education from 8 to 9th grade, enhance the government planning for continuum of 12 years of education for smooth transition and quality of learning.

Establish strong monitoring and governance systems for child labour (15-18 years), child marriage and second-generation issues in child protection to support inter-sectoral convergence and reaching last miles. Modelling with financing and capacity development strategy to strengthen child protection systems will be explored to enhance social welfare functions and functionalise including front line social workers at the levels below district.

Advocacy is an intrinsic process for addressing the disparities, discrimination and exploitation children face by helping to bring the issue of adolescents and young people’s vulnerability to the forefront of the agenda for decision makers. To achieve these outcomes through the Social Policy approach it is imperative to have a strong position to speak on behalf of children, adolescents and young people and enable them to speak on issues that impact them. Hence, strong partnership is built with the academia, media, civil society organizations, adolescents and youth led organizations and well know personalities or celebrities.