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Why The Urban Poor Children May Never Be A Part Of India’s Economic Growth

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By Prachi Salve & Saumya Tewari:

  • A child from a poor, urban family is 40% more likely to die than a richer child in India’s towns and cities.
  • Children below 10 in urban areas—especially girls—are 20% more likely to be sick than children of the same age in rural areas.
  • One in 10 of nearly two million homeless people in urban areas is a child, of which more than half (boys and girls) reported sexual abuse.
  • More than a third of homeless children admitted to substance abuse—from glue-sniffing to hard drugs—and 96% of those who did were boys.
Image source: Indiaspend
Image source: Indiaspend

IndiaSpend has compiled data from various sources to evolve a picture of what it means to be a child from a poor, urban family—or without a family. Officially, a person who lives on less than Rs 47 a day is counted as poor. Part one today focuses on health, homelessness and substance abuse, while Part two next week explores education, crime and child labour.

One of the sources used is a new report Forgotten Voices—The World of Urban Children in India released this week by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), a consultancy, and Save The Children, an advocacy. We have also added in data from, among others, the Census, the National Urban Health Mission (NUHM), the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPRCR) and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

Poor, urban children: Among India’s most disadvantaged


The picture that emerges of poor, urban children are that they are among India’s most disadvantaged people. In many respects, they are worse off than those in rural areas, with indications that they may never be a part of what is called India’s demographic dividend—economic growth driven by 472 million below 18 years of age, the largest number of young people in the world.

Urban children, especially those from disadvantaged sections, are susceptible to ill-health, poor access to water and sanitation, insufficient education, urban disasters and lack of protection, noted the PWC and Save Our Children report.

As distress grows in rural India, still home to 833 million people, India’s urban areas are witnessing a population explosion. The urban population added 91 million people—more than the populations of Germany or Egypt—in the decade ending in 2011 and grew 2.5 times faster than in rural areas.

Of those families that are migrants, the overwhelming majority begins life on the streets, move into slums and then—if they succeed—work their way up. It is a difficult life, and those most vulnerable are children.

Malnourished. Sick. More likely to die

The mortality rate for poor children under five is 72.7 (those who die for every 1,000 born alive). That is the same as the Gambia, Laos and Haiti, three of the world’s poorest countries and higher than the urban average of 51.9 (although lower than the rural average of 82).

More than 46% of urban poor children are underweight and almost 60% of urban poor children miss total immunisation before completing one year,” said a document in the National Urban Health Mission report.

Poor environmental conditions in the slums along with high population density makes them vulnerable to lung diseases like asthma, tuberculosis etc. Slums also have a high-incidence of vector-borne diseases and cases of malaria among the urban poor are twice as high as other urbanites,” the report said.

These concerns and the urban population explosion prompted the launch of the National Urban Health Mission in 2013.

The latest health data show that rural populations are healthier than urban, as IndiaSpend previously reported, and that proportionally more urban children are ailing, according to this NSSO report. “Ailing” is defined as someone who suffers from an illness that can be treated in less than a month.


Migration, the leading reason for homelessness

There are 1.9 million homeless people, of which 0.7 million live in urban areas, according to the 2011 census. Of these, 10% (70,000) are aged less than 6 years.

Among children who lived on the street, 52% did so because their families had migrated, followed by 14.5% who had come to the city in search of jobs and money, according to this study, conducted by Save the Children and the Department of International Development (government of UK) in the cities of Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar and Jaipur in 2013-14.



Most homeless children lived under a roof (46.3%)—in pipes, under tarpaulins, and flyovers, in places of worship and anything else that qualified as a roof—followed by those who lived in the open (32%).

As many as 54.5% of homeless children reported sexual abuse, with 66% of boys and 67% of girls. Substance abuse was a widespread problem, with children reporting addictions to a range of substances, from glue-sniffing to hard drugs.

Substance abuse: An ‘urgent public-health concern

One in three children living on the streets admitted to substance abuse, according to a study conducted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in 2013.

Recent times have witnessed a gradual increase in substance use among the younger population, with more people initiating substance use from an early age,” said the report’s foreword. “Use of substance among children is basically due to curiosity, peer pressure and also low perception of harm, migration, poverty, street life etc., adds to the menace. Substance use among children and adolescents is (an) urgent public health concern.”

More than 83% these children reported a tobacco habit, followed by 68% who drank alcohol and 36% who smoked cannabis, said the report, carried out in 27 states and two union territories across 135 sites in cities and towns, with 4,024 respondents.

Of the children reporting substance abuse, 95.8% were boys and 4.2% were girls; 69.8% of the respondents lived in urban spaces. A majority of the children (58.8%) were out of school, 28% were in formal schools and 12.9% were in open schools.

Children in urban areas are often better off than their rural counterparts. This is a result of high standards of health, protection, education and sanitation,” noted a 2012 UNICEF report. “But urban advances have been uneven. Millions of children in a marginalised setting confront daily challenges and deprivations of their rights.”

This article was originally published in Indiaspend.

(Salve and Tewari are policy analysts at IndiaSpend.)


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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