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Sharp regional differences in women, child health in India: survey

'Well-being of Children and Women', a Unicef survey of 43 districts, reveals sharp differences between Indian states: in Rajasthan's Tonk district over 80% of women are married before the age of 18, while in Assam's Dibrugarh district, the figure is just 13%

Sharp regional and intra-state disparities continue to exist with regard to key social indicators of women and child welfare, according to the findings of a new nationwide survey commissioned by Unicef and conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO).

'Well-being of Children and Women', a baseline survey in 43 districts of 15 states, shows, for instance, that in Tonk district of Rajasthan, over 80% of women are married before the age of 18, compared to just 13% in Assam's Dibrugarh district.

Less than 10% of births in West Singhbhum in Jharkhand, the Dangs in Gujarat, and Koraput in Orissa -- all tribal districts -- take place in primary health centres, whereas the corresponding figure for Tiruvellore district in Tamil Nadu is 84%.

And in Gaya district of Bihar, and Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh, only 5% of children are immunised, compared with over 90% of children in Karnataka's Tumkur district. Again, within Karnataka, Raichur district could fully immunise only 23% of its children.

"What distinguishes India is not just the numbers, but the complex pattern of difference that emerges through gender, poverty and states," Minister of State for Statistics and Programme Implementation G K Vasan said while releasing the report on September 8.

One of the most worrying aspects of the survey is poor awareness about the spread of HIV/AIDS in states where literacy levels are low. In many districts of the country, awareness about the mode of transmission of HIV/AIDS is as low as 5%.

This data gives policymakers and planners the opportunity to target interventions more meaningfully, rather than spreading efforts and resources uniformly and thinly.

The survey was conducted as part of a Government of India and Unicef Country Programme of Cooperation Cycle of 2003-07. Data for the survey was collected between March and May 2005. Since the survey's objective was to collect detailed and quality information on key indicators relating to the wellbeing of children and women, it covered a wide range of topics, namely, village infrastructure and service facilities with respect to sanitation, hygiene and drinking water, health of children and mothers, schooling and educational attainment of children, especially girls' education, child protection and knowledge, aptitude and practices as regards STDs and HIV/AIDS.

According to Vasan, planning cannot have a top-down approach. The solution, he believes, lies in delegating more powers to panchayati raj bodies. "This has been ensured through the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments but has not found feet in the absence of strong commitment."

Source: Hindustan Times, September 9, 2006
Financial Express, September 9, 2006, September 8, 2006