Early Childhood in India: Maternal Mortality, Health and Nutrition

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Maternal Mortality and Health

  • Maternal mortality refers to death that occurs due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. If a woman is pregnant or dies within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, it is also referred to as maternal mortality.

  • A number of initiatives have been taken by the government to reduce maternal mortality. The World Health Organization (WHO) commended India’s progress in reducing maternal mortality ratio (MMR) by 77% from 556 per 1000 live births in 1990 to 130 per 1000 live births in 2016.

Health and Nutrition

  • There is a direct connection between good health and development. When a child is born, families are advised about immunization schedules. The local ICDS centers often provide primary health care and immunization through regular clinics or specially arranged camps. The nutritional status of children in India has been abysmal. However, recent efforts have led to positive outcomes, especially a total eradication of polio.

  • For good health of both mother and child, breastfeeding is best both from the point of wholesome diet for the newborn and protection from infection. Currently, the suggested norm is for newborns to be on breast milk exclusively for the first six months.

  • Most communities have a prescribed set of foods that help mothers lactate. There are customs to celebrate the child’s transition from breast milk to semi-solid foods at about six months of age.

Education

  • Although total number attending school has improved, quality of education in many schools needs improvement to maximize the benefit to children. There have been attempts to create play-based learning environments for young children. The role of Early Childhood Care and Education Policy 2013 has been phenomenal in getting recognition of age-specific needs of children under six years.

  • Maternity Benefit Amendment Act 2017 focuses on the need for care of children under three years. The Act makes it mandatory for workspaces to provide childcare facilities. Such a directive from the State has focused on the role of early stimulation and play for babies.

Gender

  • Childhood is sometimes influenced by how society treats children. A nation cannot progress until all members of society are given equal rights and opportunities. If there are gender disparities, we cannot progress as a nation.

  • Let us review how data presents gender status. There are many issues related to the girl childlike, there is denial of health care facilities and nutrition, early dropout from schooling, low literacy rates in comparison to boys (girls 65.5% and boys 82.1%, Census of India, 2011) and fewer economic opportunities. According to Census of India, 2011, there were 944 females to 1000 males.

Diverse Social, Cultural and Economic Context

  • Diversity in India hinges on physical, social, cultural, linguistic, religious and other ethnic factors including food, clothing and customs. India’s geography is diverse, and the country can be divided into several regions viz. Himalayas, northern plains, central plateau and Deccan, Western and Eastern Ghats, Thar Desert etc.

  • The differences in climate, temperature, vegetation, and fauna give a unique feature to people in each region.

  • They differ in looks, dress and the physical conditions influence the social lives.

Culture, Caste and Tribes

There are many caste groups. Caste has been a major source of diversity in Indian society and often becomes a source of discrimination. The supposedly lower castes in India have historically been denied access to productive resources such as land, education, credit and access to places of worship.

Culture, Caste and Tribes

Culture, Caste and Tribes

  • Such negative social and cultural conditions deplete children’s self-worth and identity and make them submissive. Low motivation impact the individual’s growth and development negatively. It limits opportunities available to them and narrows their growth prospects. Scheduled Tribes are mostly located in forest or rural areas, with distinct socio-cultural beliefs and practices, deeply interlinked with forest ecology.

Religious Plurality

  • India is a secular, multi-religious and multicultural country. It is a land from where religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism have originated and flourished with religions like Islam and Christianity and tribal religions.

  • The Constitution of India forbids any discrimination on grounds of religion. Religious differences impact everyday life of children and sense of identity. School authorities need to be aware of norms and practices of different religions. Religion defines dress, food habits, customs, celebrations and festivals. Children would like to be included in festivities and see some connection between home and festivities at school or in the community.

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