West Bengal is India’s fourth most populous state with 91.3 million, and a fifth of who are poor. It occupies only 2.7 per cent of the total land area of India and this density of population often throws numerous challenges in terms of access and quality of services. By 2021, West Bengal’s population is expected to increase by an additional 10 million, making it a ‘100 million’ state. However, the state’s pace of development may not be adequate to cope up with this population dividends in the coming years.
West Bengal is among the eight poorest states, which reflect high deprivation levels across social indicators such as health, education and standard of living. However, historically, the state has had a strong Panchayati raj system, which provides an opportunity to influence the realization of children’s rights at the grass roots level.
Although poverty reduction in the state has been faster after 2005, pockets of high poverty persist within the state. Despite redistributive land reform measures, weak socio-economic and industrial policies impede development, particularly relating to children.
As per Sample Registration System (SRS) 2015 the Neonatal Mortality is at 18 per 1,000 live births. As per National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 4, stunting among children under age five is at 32.5 per cent and wasting is at 20.3 per cent. Only 47.5 per cent children are breast fed within the first hour of birth. The state has a high prevalence of childhood anaemia at 54.2 per cent.
The average gross state domestic product growth rate from 2005-06 to 2015-16 has been 10.42 per cent. Despite a consistent increased investment in the social sector, West Bengal continues to show wide variations in human development indicators, along the rural-urban divide and by social groups.
West Bengal’s performance in closing gender gaps is mixed. Schooling and maternal health have improved, yet the child sex ratio is declining, and secondary school completion rates are lower than in many other states. The Scheduled Tribes record higher levels of poverty than others. And, both Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes lag others in schooling and access to basic services.
An estimated 94.6 per cent of households have access to improved drinking water source, and approximately 41.6 per cent of women aged 20-24 years are married before 18 years of age and 18.3 per cent women aged 15-19 years have started childbearing. Over 70 per cent of children in the age group of 3-6 years attend preschool (Source: Rapid Survey on Children 2013-14).
A large proportion of maternal deaths still occur among Muslim, tribal and Scheduled Caste populations. Over the past decade, West Bengal has seen an expansion of the health infrastructure; however, the distribution of health facilities is skewed, and hard-to-reach areas often do not have functional primary health centers.