The India strategy of the Bernard van Leer Foundation consists of two main parts. The first part focuses on the situation of the 1.4 million tribal children under 6 years old growing up in the state of Orissa. The second part concerns more than 8 million young children under the age of 8 growing up in urban slums across the country.
These two populations are the main target groups of the BvLF strategy in India, although our work will concentrate on smaller geographical areas within these very large populations. The two goals in India are:
Increased access to quality multilingual pre-school education services for 3-5 year old tribal children in Orissa
Out of the 8 million tribal people in the state of Orissa, 1.4 million are children 0-6 years of age. Among the tribal population in Orissa, literacy rates are 37%, compared to 63% for the state and 65% for the country. Although 77% of tribal children attend a centre run by the government’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), more centres are needed. Where centres do operate, there are problems of poorly trained teachers who are regularly absent, unsafe physical infrastructure, and discriminatory attitudes towards tribal children and their parents. Many do not speak the official state language, and the absence of tribal languages in ICDS centres is one of the main barriers to improve learning outcomes. Only 4 to 5 per cent of centres use the children’s mother tongue as a language of instruction. The Foundation has been supporting the creation of multilingual pre-schools in Orissa - as showcased in this two-minute video - since 2009.
Reduced rates of malnutrition and morbidity among young children growing up in urban slums
More than 150 million children in India are at risk of becoming malnourished due to the current global food crisis and corresponding escalations in prices. This is compounded by high levels of child morbidity stemming from lack of access to safe drinking water, poor sanitation and lack of awareness about appropriate health and hygiene practices. 46% of children under 3 are underweight, 38% are stunted, and 19% are wasted. A USAID study in 2002 found that infant mortality rates were twice as high in slums as the national rural average, and that slum children under 5 suffer and die more often from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infection than rural children. Our own research in 2010 in a sample of five major cities, found up to 65% of urban poor children were underweight, 77% were anaemic.
There is a major movement to change the conditions of the slums. Two of the most significant programmes are Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) – nationally funded urban renewal and slum upgrading initiatives investing 3 billion Euros per year in cities where urbanization and urban poverty are most dramatic. The challenge is to make those Euros count for young children in urban slums.
For the time being, we have chosen not to programme directly on the goal of reducing violence in young children’s lives due to our resource limitations. However, we do know that domestic violence and child abuse are serious issues in urban slums so we will further research possibilities to integrate that issue in some way, potentially with another funder like the Oak Foundation. Regardless of whether we choose to do so, however, we believe that improving environmental health, reducing poverty and organizing communities are likely to have impacts on violence reduction. We will test this hypothesis in our evaluation strategy for the urban slum component of the programme.
Do you have comments on our goals in India? Please contact our India Representative, Dharitri Patnaik: Dharitri.Patnaik@bvleerf.nl