A Close Reading
The government on Wednesday released the fact sheets of key indicators on population, reproductive and child health, family welfare nutrition and others for India as well as for 14 states and UTs, clubbed under phase two of the 2019-21 the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) released by Union health ministry.
The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) or the average number of children per woman has declined further from 2.2 reported in 2015-16 to 2.0 at the all-India level. This means that country has attained a major demographic milestone. India's TFR has dropped below what the United Nations Population Council deems the "replacement level". This is a notable achievement for the country's family planning program me and a resounding repetition of politicians and policy makers who have, of late, been crying hoarse about population explosion.
Anemia among children and women continues to be a cause of concern. More than half of the children and women (including pregnant women) are anemic compared to NFHS-4, in spite of substantial increase in the composition of iron folic acid ( IFA) tablets by pregnant women for 180 days or more. According to the findings, child nutrition indicators showed a slight improvement at all-India level as stunting declined from 38 % to 36%, wasting from 21 % to to 19 % and underweight from 36 % to 32%.
The sex ratio at birth has improved over the five-year period from NFHS-4 proving that a large number of girl children are being born. So, more daughters are being saved. But literacy rates among women remains a concern since nearly every third woman in the village was still illiterate in 2019-21. Not just literacy, women continue to lag men in other indices too. At least one in four Indian women has experienced spouse violence between 15 to 49 years of age. There in four Indian women either did not hold a job or remained unpaid during a debilitating global pandemic.
In 2015 to 16 every fourth women had been in a child marriage (26.8%) and this proportion increased dramatically in the case of rural women (31%). In the latest survey, the percentage of women in child marriages dropped to 23.3% and 27% of rural women were married off before reaching 18 years.
NFHS accounts only certain women, who belong to specific demographic categories. There is a bias in it. Just look at the state figures when the sample size is too small. We will have to wait for the next census figures to get a clear picture. How did India fare ? It is a mixed product containing both cheer and alarm in abundant measure. The results of the NFHS-5 worthy of attention because it is not easily put together state of health index.