On his first visit to India, Unicef executive director Anthony Lake expressed concern over malnutrition and lack of quality education in India.
Lake said that with 46% children underweight and 38% stunted, India faces its biggest development challenge. Each year, 23 million children die before reaching the age of five in India, accounting for 21% of the world’s under-five deaths.
“Stunting, or low height for age, is an indicator of slow cognitive (brain) development, which impacts the child’s future. India is short of over 1 million teachers who need to be hired to reduce the high dropout rate in schools,” he said.
India scores in its willingness to accept the problem and discuss solutions.
“India is making progress in the under-five mortality, which has halved since 1990 and is above the global average,” said Lake, who visited two villages in Bihar’s Vaishali district.
“A World Bank-UNICEF study found that across the world, be it India or Ethiopia, the bottlenecks are not in the supply but in demand. People don’t access services such as healthcare and education because of issues of social exclusion, which is why the world needs an equity-focused approach to child survival and development,” said Lake.
In Vaishali, Lake went to an upper-caste and a scheduled caste village. “The services and infrastructure were not equal in these villages and it was heartbreaking to see the marginalised accept they have less rights.”