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UNICEF comes down heavily on Gujarat's social indicators, says they do not keep pace with economic growth

By Our Representative
In a major criticism of Gujarat's social sector, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), has said that "from an ancient shipping power to modern-day industrial state, Gujarat is known for its vibrant economy", and "located on India’s west coast, the state has a bustling economy that offers families a per capita income which is higher than the national average" -- but as for "social development indicators" these "have not been able to keep pace with economic development in this state of over 60 million people."
Introducing Gujarat on its website, UNICEF says, "Almost every second child in Gujarat under the age of five years is undernourished and three out of four are anaemic. Infant and maternal mortality rates have reduced very slowly in the last decade. Also, the preliminary results of Census 2011 show that while there has been a slight improvement in the child sex ratio (0-6 years) from 883 in 2001 to 886 today, the overall sex ratio in the state has declined from 920 to 918."
It further says, "Although Gujarat is recognized as one of the most prosperous states in India with very good infrastructure of highways and ports, and strong petrochemical and automobile industries and agro products, a lot needs to be done to improve socio-development indicators. UNICEF works closely with the Government of Gujarat and civil society organizations to fulfill the rights of children."
In its "Challenges and Opportunities" section on the state, the writeup says, "Just like the undernourished children, one mother in three in Gujarat struggles with acute undernutrition. About half of these women are also anaemic, putting them at risk of problems during pregnancy, childbirth and post natal period." It adds, "Lack of awareness of proper nutrition is partially responsible for this situation; only about half the mothers currently choose to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of their life."
It underlines, "This deprives children of the chance to acquire natural immunities passed on through breast milk and makes them more susceptible to common childhood diseases. Older babies are also not introduced to complementary feeding at the right age."
Under the section "Key Challenges and Opportunities", it points towards following factors:
• Girls are still less likely to complete their education than boys.
• During summers, some families may be seriously affected by scarcity of water. Major efforts by the state have provided piped water for about two thirds of the rural population.
• The risk of faecal contamination of water exists, since many households do not have access to toilets. Household sanitation is a major challenge which needs to be addressed.
• Most villages have a primary school nearby. More and more students are being enrolled every year in primary schools and the number of dropouts is declining dramatically. Recent studies, however, show that the quality of education needs to be improved, with less than half the students being able to read, write and understand mathematics at levels appropriate for their age.
• There is a large urban population with poor social sector systems.
• Poor social indicators exist, particularly in the tribal areas.
UNICEF's action, in this context, is to "help" the state government draw up "strategies to fight childhood undernutrition and morbidity, which includes initiatives about the importance of breastfeeding within the first hour of a baby’s life and regularly weighing the child to monitor growth", the writeup says, adding, "Pregnant and nursing mothers and young women are being equipped with information on how to improve their health and nutrition. In collaboration with the state government, communities are being trained to monitor the quality of drinking water and disseminating knowledge about safe storage of water and hygiene behaviour."
For this, UNICEF initiatives include helping ensure that all children are fully immunized against vaccine preventable diseases, even as supporting the state government in effective implementation of the Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illnesses(IMNCI) strategy to ensure management of common illnesses at home or timely referral to the nearest health facility.
On the nutrition front, UNICEF seeks to "encouraging regular growth monitoring of all children between 0 to 6 months of age", even as "reducing micronutrient deficiencies by promoting use of iodized salt, consumption of iron folic acid tablets by all adolescent girls and vitamin A for all children up to five years."
As for child protection, UNICEF it is seeking to establish partnerships with civil society organizations in six cotton-producing districts – Kutch, Vadodara, Banaskantha, Patan, Rajkot and Bhavnagar – to mobilize the community around protection of child rights, with focus on eliminating child labour.
On the educational front, it is helping the state government to "develop models to provide early childhood education for children between 3 and 6 years and quality elementary education through activity-based learning for all children between 6 and 14 years."

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