Unkept promises: Round 3 launch in Delhi
Young Lives India held a roundtable meeting to share its Round 3 Country Report entitled The Impact of Growth on Childhood Poverty in Andhra Pradesh: Initial Findings from India on 12 January 2012. The event, jointly organised by DFID and Young Lives and held at the India International Centre, New Delhi, saw policymakers, academia, researchers, NGOs, INGOs dealing with child issues, UN organisations and media join to discuss the study's findings.
In attendance were Colin Bangay (Senior Education Advisor, DFID); the chair, Professor Govinda (Vice Chancellor, NEUPA); and Chief Guest Dr Syeda Hameed (Member, Planning Commission).The programme started with a screening of We 'THE FUTURE', the documentary film based on Young Lives findings voicing the concerns of children and their caregivers, before moving on to the presentations.
Introducing Young Lives
Professor Jo Boyden in her presentation stressed that children experience household poverty differently to other family members and that families with children are at a higher risk of being income-poor than other groups. Children are considered as 'beneficiaries' of health or education programmes, or their needs overlooked when policies are targeted at adults and families. Yet childhood experience is key to the adults we become and hence enhancing the well-being of children is intrinsically linked with a broader process of economic and social development.
The multidimensional approach that Young Lives takes to poverty, including health, access to key services, education and learning, work patterns, family and social relationships, and children's perceptions of well-being, as well as core economic indicators such as poverty level and household assets, was emphasised. Professor Boyden added that Young Lives aims to use its research to ensure children's issues get on the agenda, stimulate significant debate, and challenge and change policies and thinking on childhood poverty in the longer term.
Her presentation also briefly touched on the key trends from all 4 countries covered by Young Lives - Ethiopia, Peru and Vietnam in addition to India - related to wealth, access to services and aspirations, highlighting that in India there has been increase in economic growth, but that substantial inequalities persist among children, based on gender, class and caste, and between urban and rural areas.
Young Lives Round 3 Key Findings
Dr Vijay Kumar began by reporting an increase in consumption levels across the board, with a slightly faster decline in absolute poverty, especially in rural areas. But drought affected over a quarter of sample households between 2002 and 2006, and over three-quarters of the sample households were affected by food price increases between 2006 and 2009. The increase in consumption expenditure and decline in poverty has not addressed malnutrition. The incidence of children working for pay is highest among socially vulnerable groups. Marginalised groups are most likely to take up work under MGNREGS but few households report 100 days' work under the scheme. TPDS was accessed by many but the poor quality of food grains, irregular supply, insufficient quantity and inconvenient hours of distribution remain major concern. Even Rajiv Arogyasri cards have very low access. Primary enrolment has been high but drop-out in later years remains high. Nine in ten children accessed the Midday Meal scheme. Private schooling increased between 2002 and 2009, with more boys than girls attending.
In conclusion, Dr Kumar stressed that economic growth is not guaranteed to reduce inequalities. For example, the incidence of poverty among socially marginalized communities is much higher and the rate of increase in consumption expenditure far less. There have been large increases in food prices, inadequate sanitation, malnutrition and children out of school, and child labour remains major policy concern. Thus public policies have not so far been able to ensure the well-being of all children, particularly socially vulnerable communities. The challenge remains for how to effectively address poor nutrition, combat ill-health and deliver pro-poor growth; more investment is needed in health and education, ensuring access to land, and social protection schemes for the poorest households.
Keynote address by Dr Syeda Hameed
Chief Guest Dr Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission noted changes in society's attitudes towards children, saying "In the year 2004, very few people used to talk about children. A positive shift has been seen wherein society has started emphasising children. There has been a movement towards betterment, from concern about drinking water to safe drinking water and that of sanitation and hygiene. The undervaluing of the girl child is really a matter of concern and is prevalent in every section of our society."
We need to look at what are the causes of disparities, what interventions are required and what is the right formula. Even after 35 years, there is not much improvement as the malnutrition figures show. However, Dr Hameed feels Young Lives can contribute clarity to the debate: "This longitudinal study is really helpful as it gives a clear picture of the country, especially Andhra Pradesh, and the prevailing disparities."
With the shocking health indicators from the report, Dr Hameed indicated that universal healthcare is the highest priority now. In the 12th Five-year Plan, the Planning Commission is trying to make public health a matter of primary concern and 2.5% of GDP has to be allocated for health. Nor can it be left to the individual; health insurance for India's citizens has to be the State's affair.
Comments from the Chair
Professor Govinda commented that malnutrition is not limited to poor households only and that gender-based variation in food intake patterns needs to be studied. Universal access to health is also an important concern. For example, parental ill-health can disrupt a child's childhood, with the child having to take up the role of an adult in order to compensate and support the family. He further added that the definition of poverty in India needs to be refined: "Subjective well-being is something that needs to be emphasised and explored, we need to go deeper into it and think about the quality of life."
Professor Govinda added that much legislation and policies have been made at national level but that their implementation at the local level has not always been effective: "The need of the hour is an influential body of research and the research organisations have to link themselves with Government strategically."
A lively discussion ensued, especially around disability and gender. In answer to a question on whether there was a change in society's attitude towards the girl child, Dr Renu Singh said that parents now believe that all children should go to school and are sending girls as well. Yet discrimination remains as it is the boys who are being sent to private schools in the belief that they are better; parents justify not sending girls to private schools by saying that the girls are poor students and so on.
Professor Boyden noted that Young Lives included children with disabilities but the design of the study was such that disabilities could not be made a fundamental part.
Ms. Saroj Pachori, Country Director of Population Council, affirmed that the evidence-based research from Young Lives will contribute to policy change. "In this country, we have been focussing on service provision but little has been done on demand creation," she said. "Thus, what we have failed to do is behavior change communication? What needs to be done now is to bring about changes in people's attitude and behavior by providing them with the required information."
The programme ended with a vote of thanks from Dr Renu Singh, Country Director, Young Lives India.
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