India's adult children

Globally, nearly 700 million children enter adulthood before experiencing or ending childhood. Save the Children, a not-for-profit organisation that works for children’s rights, has issued its 2019 Report. It has sourced data from the World Bank, UNESCO, other United Nations offices for global population, World Health Organisation, and others. It enables a discussion of children’s condition in a cross-country context1.


The criteria to assess early end-of-childhood comprise eight indicators. They are:Under-five mortality (per 1,000 live births), malnutrition causing stunting (percentage for 0-59 months), exclusion from primary and secondary school (percentage of age five-17), child labour in adult roles (percentage of age five-17), girls married or in union, and adolescent births per 1,000 girls (both for girls aged 15-19), and displacement through conflict or victims of homicide (deaths per 100,000 among age 0-19).


We use eight comparable countries to assess India’s performance with two questions: (a) What is the prevailing score? and (b) how much improvement in score was achieved? Table 1 begins with some good news in that, out of a maximum score of 1,000, India’s 2019 reported score of 769 was higher than for Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, though remaining below China, Brazil, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Only China and Sri Lanka scored above 900.


The derivation of the score needs elaboration. Since each of the eight indicators is measured differently, it has to be “normalised” or brought down to a common denominator. Thus XN, a normalised indicator value, equals (X – L) / (H – L), where X is a country’s actual value for that indicator2, L (Worst) is the highest observed value for the indicator among all countries, and H (Best) is the lowest observed value for the indicator. The overall score for a country is calculated by summing XN for all eight indicators and dividing the sum by eight, then multiplying by 1,000 to get numbers between 0-1,000.


India’s current score reflects an improvement of 137 points—from 632 to 769—during 2000-19. This improvement fell short of improvements made by Bangladesh and Nepal though that did not allow them to reach India’s score. China and Sri Lanka, already with high scores, could not of course improve much, though Brazil’s improvement was even smaller. Indonesia and Pakistan also made lacklustre improvements. These country scores allow an ordering of countries. For 2019, India was ranked 113 out of 176 countries.


Table 2 deconstructs the overall picture into selected indicator components. Thus, India reduced child mortality during 2015-17 as did every sample country. Yet, over a longer period 2011-18, India made no improvement in reducing severe malnourishment (stunting), while Sri Lanka and Pakistan deteriorated. In particular, Sri Lanka’s worsening is surprising. Tellingly, India’s indicator for out-of-school children worsened during 2011-18 (see my column in this paper dated November 21, 2011). This is deeply lamentable in light of improvement in every other sample country and in the global average.


Table 3 focuses on what I would term “child-adult” indicators. There was no improvement in India in reducing child labour (my columns dated October 17, 2017 and November 13, 2018). Bangladesh and Indonesia also made nil progress in reducing child labour, while Brazil and Sri Lanka did improve.

An area in which India made striking progress is child marriage during 2011-18, though the picture of other countries is mixed. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka improved. China—already with a high score—and Indonesia remained the same, while Nepal, Pakistan and Brazil worsened. Indeed, Brazil’s worsening appears stunning (perhaps an error?). India’s 2016 score for child-mother is considerably better than all sample countries other than, expectedly, China and Sri Lanka. This Indian achievement is worth recognising.


Last is the indicator that cries out most in calling attention to the violent cutting short of a child’s life. Here again India ranks just after China and Sri Lanka, a commendable score despite poverty, while Brazil is by far the worst.


In sum, India is making progress in improving its children’s condition though certain indicators have stagnated. Overall, India has to run much faster to improve its global rank. Another conclusion is that Brazil’s reputation for violence appears corroborated. To emphasise again, pure economic indicators are meaningless in a vacuum that excludes socio-economic indicators. This could be nowhere more relevant than in India.


/>  1. Also see Sana Ali’s reprint dated May 30, 2019 in this paper

 2. Higher indicator values show worse performance