Children in Rajasthan

Rajasthan’s feudal, strongly patriarchal, caste-centred society and deeply entrenched social norms continue to impede progress of social development in the state.

Shanta Meena is equipped with a Smart phone to record the data for ICT – Real time monitoring to achieve the target set under the Poshan Abhiyaan.

The challenge

Located in north-western India, Rajasthan is the country’s largest state by area. At 342,239 km, it encompasses 11 per cent of the total geographical area of the country. Along with this large area comes a wide and diverse topography: rolling sand dunes, fertile plains, rocky, undulating regions and even some forested areas. Still, a large proportion of the state is arid, and Rajasthan is home to India’s biggest desert, the Thar.

The largest state in India by geographical area, Rajasthan, has seen significant pace of poverty rate reduction from 34 per cent in 2005 to 15 per cent in 2012 (Tendulkar Committee Report 2013) despite rural poverty rate remaining higher than urban poverty.     

Disparities continue to exist on most socio-economic indicators, concentrating primarily in western desert districts and tribal dominated southern districts.      

The state is home to more than 68 million people, almost 50 per cent of whom are under the age of 18 years (2011 census). It is predominantly rural, with 75 per cent of its population living in villages. More than 30 per cent of its population belongs to scheduled castes (17.8 per cent) and scheduled tribes (13.5 per cent).

Over recent decades, successive Rajasthan governments have shown a commitment to address the state’s many development concerns, especially those of children, adolescents and women. They have instituted the Girl Child Policy of 2012, to ensure the survival, growth and development and empowerment of girls, and have taken a lead in child labour programmes through a rare initiative to raise the bar on child labour from 14 to 18 years.

Rajasthan has been at the forefront of India’s economic reforms and is now among the country’s six fastest-growing states. Its main economy is agriculture, but industrial sectors such as textiles and vegetable oil and dye production also contribute significantly to the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Rajasthan has a thriving tourism industry thanks to its reputation at the “Land of Kings”. A strong royal past has left the state with many centuries-old palaces and princely estates to visit. Tourism accounts for 15 per cent of Rajasthan’s economy.  

Advancing children’s rights and well-being

UNICEF supports the Government in achieving the last miles and reaching out to every child, with special focus on marginalized and hard-to-reach communities.

The focus has been on engaging initiatives to help children survive as their right, particularly within the first 28 days where the state experienced challenges. The other focus has been on addressing gender discrimination specially for newborn babies so that girls are admitted to special newborn care units (SNCUs) just as boys, whenever needed. The Rajshree scheme, a conditional cash transfer linked to survival, immunization and education of girls has been an inclusive scheme by the government.

Several innovative efforts have been on improving quality of care, including skilled birth attendance, early initiation of breastfeeding, full supportive care in the special newborn care units. Contributions to building capacities of functionaries, using data such as from SNCUs for tracking, improving quality care specially in delivery rooms and newborn care units and tracking progress following discharge have remained key areas of UNICEF’s work in the state. UNICEF also supports the state in improving the coverage and quality of routine immunization focusing on hard-to-reach and marginalized populations.        

Despite many issues, the state has been among the firsts to make some innovative contributions to improve social sector indicators, including early childhood development, adolescent empowerment and largely on making efforts to reduce gender disparity in the survival and development of girls.     

UNICEF’s work in Rajasthan focusses importantly to address stunting (short height for age) and wasting prevalent among under-five year old children, the former primarily among tribal and Scheduled Caste communities where it is higher than other population groups. UNICEF focuses on community-based management of malnutrition using existing government schemes, including Poshan.

Through partnerships, UNICEF also supports the state in developing and implementing innovative communication strategies to improve maternal and child nutrition with a focus on complementary foods and feeding and towards effective implementation of the Mothers’ Absolute Affection (MAA) programme to improve breastfeeding practices. Efforts have also been made in the state to support the government in restructuring the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) to tackle malnutrition. The Nutrition programme contributes to develop capacities of frontline workers to improve the quality of counselling provided to caregivers on identifying and preparing locally available nutritious foods and actively feeding their children, a core aspect in addressing undernutrition.

The state is committed to eliminating open defecation ahead of the 2019 target date under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) despite rural sanitation coverage being uneven, especially in southern tribal dominated and western desert districts. The programme invests in communication approaches to increase demand for improved sanitation and hygiene and address harmful social norms that sanction open defecation.

Rajasthan has made rapid progress in providing separate toilets for girls, drinking water and handwashing facilities in schools and is ranked second in the country on the functioning of toilets in schools.

Anganwadi worker Manju Agarwal (middle) with Daulat singh (right) 30 – year old, illiterate father of 2 children and his wife Chanpa Bai (Left) 26 year – old Illiterate during regular home visit.
Anganwadi worker Manju Agarwal (middle) with Daulat singh (right) 30 – year old, illiterate father of 2 children and his wife Chanpa Bai (Left) 26 year – old Illiterate during regular home visit.

UNICEF provides technical assistance to develop and roll out water safety plans and through partnerships with Panchayati Raj Institutions, self-help groups and women groups, UNICEF works to strengthen community participation in managing water supply systems. The programme works closely with the state in four districts having high neonatal mortality to demonstrate effective water, sanitation and hygiene models in health facilities.

The state has made considerable progress to ensure equitable quality education. Increased community participation and improved school managements have helped in creating a responsive education system. UNICEF focuses on supporting the state’s capacity to analyse and generate high quality data for use in education planning, evidence-based programming and budgeting.

The programme works to strengthen the capacities of state level child protection society, district child protection committees, child welfare committees and the Juvenile Justice Board to deliver responsive child protection services. UNICEF in Rajasthan advocates with the government for setting up a trained child protection workforce at all levels.

UNICEF’s programmes are built around the life cycle phase of early childhood development (0-6 years) across programme outcomes to address children’s and women’s rights. UNICEF works to ensure that issues affecting adolescents are addressed holistically across different state departments and that civil society organizations, academia, community members and children themselves effectively address empowerment of adolescents. Several platforms such as the Meena Manch, child rights clubs and National Service Scheme are strengthened to provide opportunities for dialogue and engagement of adolescents to promote change in areas concerning them. UNICEF also works to strengthen community platforms such as Adhyapika Manch, self-help groups and panchayati raj institutions for collective action to uphold the rights of adolescents.

Rajasthan, a water stressed state, is faced with frequent droughts. In the recent past, owing to climatic variability it has also experienced flash floods and hailstorms. Thus, as part of risk-informed programming, UNICEF is focusing on assessing gaps in capacity for emergency preparedness and response, strengthening planning, budgeting and monitoring and strengthening institutions on disaster risk reduction. Specifically, UNICEF is developing climate resilient water safety and security plans, strengthening the disaster risk reduction component in school safety, building capacities of officials on public health in emergencies and integrating disaster risk reduction in government flagship programmes and the nutrition mission. UNICEF also focuses on building the resilience of children and adolescents to climate induced shocks and stresses.