`1.72 mn kids die before age one in India`

A "savage preference for males" leads to killing of 7 lakh babies each year in India.

Kolkata: A "savage preference for males" leads to the killing of 7 lakh girls by their parents in the mother`s womb each year in India, according to a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) member.

NHRC member Satyabrata Pal also said that 25 percent of the children who see the light of day are underweight at birth, and 1.72 million children die before they turn one.

"The UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) fears 2,000 girls are lost every day because of a savage preference for males: seven lakh girls killed by their parents each year before they are born," Pal said here.

The chilling statistics formed part of the Sisir Kumar Bose Memorial Lecture "An Empty Cup: Human Rights in New India" delivered by Pal Saturday evening as he detailed the many ways in which "we, as a nation, have failed our fellow citizens".

Dwelling on the dismal situation of child health, Pal said that children underweight at birth continue to be undernourished.
"In the WHO`s (World Health Organisation) deeply shaming assessment, while the child mortality rate dropped to 90/1,000 in 2002 from 202/1,000 in 1970, the rate of decline slowed in the 1990s, just when the economy took off," he said.

"Because of our gender bias, the mortality rate is even higher for girls than boys."

World Health Statistics show that, even in 2010, India`s record of immunisation was worse than that of Bangladesh and Pakistan, while the government`s latest National Family Health Survey says the country falls way behind even sub-Saharan African nations in average percentage of underweight children below five years.

"The percentage of underweight children under five years is almost 20 times as high in India as would be expected in a healthy, well-nourished population. It is almost twice as high as the average percentage of underweight children in sub-Saharan African countries," the survey said.

Speaking about the 11 lakh Anganwadi centres, Pal said: "I have rarely come across an anganwadi that serves the number of children registered, or where the health of the children present is close to what is recorded in the charts. There are no checks on the Anganwadi workers, though many are dedicated, or on their reports, which are often false."
Describing official figures of enrollment of students in schools as "completely misleading", he said the NHRC found that while in many schools the mid-day meal scheme does not work well, in others, children are sent to the school only for the meal.

"They do not attend classes. Figures for enrollment, which have gone up, are therefore completely misleading."

Calling the infrastructure of schools in the villages as either "dreadful" or "absent", Pal said: "Even at the higher secondary level, the facilities, and the standards, are deplorable."

Narrating his experience on a visit to a higher secondary school enrolling 1,500 students in rural Jharkhand, he said it had furniture in one-third of the rooms and no electricity.

"Including the principal, it had five teachers. One was a teacher qualified in the subject assigned to him. Another was a Persian teacher... since he had studied science in school, he was the science teacher. The other two teachers were peons."