63% pregnant women in rural areas work till delivery, shows survey

The survey found that due to poor diet during pregnancy, the average weight gained by the women surveyed was much less than the set norms
Almost 63 per cent of pregnant women in rural India work right until the day of delivery. And, 49 per cent say they felt exhausted during pregnancy, due to lack of food and rest, a recent survey has found.

A third of the respondents had to borrow or sell assets to meet after-pregnancy costs. Symptoms of weakness included swelling of feet (41 per cent), impairment of daylight vision (17 per cent) or convulsions (9 per cent).

The survey was conducted this June in six states, on 702 women (342 pregnant and 364 nursing, the latter defined as someone who delivered a baby in the six months preceding the survey). It is a non-government effort, conducted by tams of student volunteers, coordinated by academic-activists Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera, among others.

It says 48 per cent of pregnant women and 39 per cent of nursing women in Uttar Pradesh had no idea whether or not they gained weight during pregnancy. And, 22 per cent of the nursing women reported they ate more than usual during pregnancy. 

The exercise, titled Jaccha Baccha-Survey (JABS), is critical of the Pradhan Mantri Mantru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY), launched in 2017 as part of obligations under the National Food Security Act, which said all pregnant women are entitled to maternity benefits of Rs 6,000, unless they already received similar benefits under other laws, e.g as formal sector employees.

Critics say on violation of the NFSA, the Yojana restricted the benefit to one child per woman – the “first living child” -- and also arbitrarily reduced the benefit from Rs 6,000 to Rs 5,000 per child.

The survey says a query under the Right to Information Act revealed only half of the eligible women received any PMMVY money in 2018-19. And, since 55 per cent of pregnant women are not even eligible ('first living child' condition), this means effective coverage of PMMVY is 22 per cent.

“PMMVY could have been a promising scheme but has been ruined by stinginess and technocracy. Aside from undermining women’s rights, this is a major loss for children,” the survey report said.

It finds the proportion of nursing women who reported eating nutritious food (e.g eggs, fish, milk) ‘regularly’ during pregnancy was less than half the sample as a whole, and only 12 per cent in UP.

And, due to poor diet during pregnancy, the average weight gain in the sample was barely seven kg (in UP, four kg), compared with the norm of 13-18 kg for women with a low body-mass index.  “A significant minority (21 per cent) of nursing women said no one (not even a grown-up child) was available to help them with household work during pregnancy,” the survey says.

Pregnant and nursing women are acutely deprived of quality health care. Many get some basic services (e.g tetanus injections and iron tablets) at the local anganwadi or health centre but very little beyond these. 

Against this gloomy picture, the survey also records some positive changes. Such as the use of of public ambulance services that have becomey common. In Odisha, the government has started giving eggs as 'take-home ration' to pregnant and nursing women. Himachal Pradesh stands out for relatively good public services, including maternal care, for pregnant women and nursing mothers; Chhattisgarh and Odisha are improving. 

In Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and — especially — UP, the situation is described as dismal.

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