Children’s health in India – Some Hard Facts

  • 42% of the world’s underweight children are in India.
  • We account for 30% of global neo-natal deaths.
  • There is a shortage of 20,486 health sub-centres, 4477 Primary Health Centres (PHC), and 2337 Community Health Centres (CHC) as per 2001 population norms.
  • Nearly one in every two of India’s 120 million children under the age of six years is underweight; almost double the prevalence in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Under-nutrition in India has been estimated to be associated with about half of all child deaths.

ICDS Centres or anganwadis cover about 830.90 lakh beneficiaries: 685.52 lakh children below six and about 145.38 lakh pregnant and lactating mothers.

On World Health Day, Child Rights and You – CRY points out that the State continues to under-fund healthcare in the country.

April 7, 2011, New Delhi: Children’s health is a forgotten priority in India, says CRY. This comes up very clearly when we see the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), which continues to be high at 50 child deaths per 1000 live births, as against the Government’s target of bringing the numbers down to 28 per 1000 births by the year 2012.

A more telling indicator is India’s approach to healthcare in general – with 42% of the world’s undernourished children within its borders, the Government of India still spends only 1.27% of its GDP on health (2010-11 BE) for the entire population.

Poor infrastructure
Despite the growth in healthcare infrastructure in recent years, there is a shortage of 20,486 health sub-centres, 4477 Primary Health Centres (PHC), and 2337 Community Health Centres (CHC) as per 2001 population norms. Furthermore, almost 40% of the existing health infrastructure is in rented buildings or rent-free panchayat/voluntary society buildings. Poor upkeep and maintenance, and high absenteeism in rural areas are the main problems in the public health delivery system. A majority of all healthcare services in India lie within the private sector domain, including over 75% of human resources and advanced medical technology, 68% of hospitals (estimated at 15,097 in total) and 37% of hospital beds (estimated at 623,819 in total). Most of these are located in urban areas, leaving the majority of India’s population -the poor- at the mercy of expensive, private healthcare.

No National Health Act Yet
In January 2008, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, as the Nodal Ministry, began drafting the National Health Bill, but it is yet to be enacted. This step was mandated in light of the Government of India ratifying the UNCRC in 1992, and the lack of results towards achieving those promises. Almost 19 years since the ratification, those entitlements still elude children in India. “The country’s flagship health schemes and services, such as the Primary Healthcare Centres and the Anganwadis have serious quality problems, with a direct impact on child morbidity, mortality and malnourishment,” says Puja Marwaha, CRY’s CEO.

The State continues to under-fund health, a foundational sector. “The Arjun Sengupta report established that more than 70% of Indians subsist on less than 20 rupees per capita. With the high rates of inflation, especially the rise in food prices, the poor have become increasingly vulnerable to food insecurity and are theoretically under constant risk of health failure, morbidity and mortality. Children are at a higher risk as their capacity to absorb nutritional or health shock is less,” said Marwaha. In a ranking of 175 countrie’s public health spending in 2007-08, the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranked India a lowly 171.

What the Government has promised children under the UN Child Rights Convention

  • Survival and development of the child – Art. 6.
  • The right of the disabled child to special care and protection including education, training, healthcare services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities – Art. 23.
  • Infant and child mortality to be diminished – Art. 24
  • Provision of necessary medical assistance and healthcare to all children with emphasis on the development of primary healthcare to be ensured – Art.24
  • Disease and malnutrition to be combated, including within the framework of primary healthcare, through, among others, the application of readily available technology and provision of adequate nutritious food and clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution – Art. 24
  • Appropriate pre-natal and post-natal healthcare ensured for mothers – Art. 24
  • All segments of society, in particular parents and children, to be informed, have access to education and to be supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents – Art. 24
  • Preventive healthcare, guidance for parents, and family-planning education and services to be developed – Art. 24

Note to the Editor:
CRY – Child Rights and You (formerly known as Child Relief and You) is India’s leading advocate for child rights. For over 30 years, CRY has partnered with NGOs, communities, the Government and the media. We are dedicated to mobilising all sections of society to eliminate the root causes of deprivation, exclusion, exploitation and abuse. For more information please visit us at

For further information, please contact: Child Rights and You (CRY) (022) – 23010445


  • Economic Survey of India, 2011
  • Sample Registration Survey 2009, 2008.