By Abdul Bari Masoud
Internal child trafficking is an alarming problem in the nation’s poorer regions, including Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Rajasthan, and other states. However, UNICEF, in collaboration with state governments, NGOs, and social workers, has been working tirelessly to find a solution to this issue. On this front, there are a lot of success stories. One such story is about Rajasthan’s Dungarpur district, which was once prone to child trafficking and health-related issues.
Dungarpur is located in Rajasthan’s farthest south, bordering Gujarat, and is dominated by the Bhil tribe, who may have first settled in the region as early as 4000 BCE. It is the smallest district in the state because it only makes up 1.13 percent of the 3770 sq. km. total area of the state. It is hilly for the most part. There are 13, 88,552 people living in Dungarpur as per the 2011 Census. The district’s population is made up of 70.84 percent Scheduled tribes and 3.76 percent Scheduled castes.
Due to a shortage of basic necessities, Dungarpur, one of the poorest districts in India, experienced an increase in child trafficking. UNICEF and the state government, with the help of community policing, have been able to mitigate the threat. In the child rescue project, UNICEF involved teachers, social workers, and a variety of volunteers that bore positive results.
Given the proximity of the border between Gujarat and the Dungarpur area, child trafficking has always been an issue of concern there. The children travel to Gujarat with the help of contractors or child traffickers to labour on the Gujarati fields where Bt-Cotton is cultivated.
The Child Protection Divisional Consultant of UNICEF, Ms. Sindhu Binujeeth, highlighted the issue of child trafficking in the region by stating to Muslim Mirror that “Children are made to work in farms where Bt cotton is grown because they have nimble fingers.”
She has devoted a lot of her time to helping these underprivileged kids, and she believes that community policing can effectively combat child trafficking.
Ms. Sindhu further underlined that she noticed many children accompanying the contractors to work on the farms where Bt-Cotton is cultivated.
“I work closely with the police and the community, and due to their familiarity with the contractors and their expectation that their children will return home within a short period of time, the parents are willing to send their children to work, she noted.
She pointed out that such children were affected by a number of other factors due to cultivation work, as their hands suffered harm, and their physical, emotional, and sexual wellbeing were also compromised. She said the contractors take advantage of the kids, pay pitiful wages, and profit handsomely off the owners.
The local police force is also playing its part in combating the child trafficking menace. Speaking with the Muslim Mirror, Dungarpur SHO Sunder Solanki stated that with UNICEF’s support, we built confidence among the local population and also established checkpoints at several locations. He said that through Suraksha Sakhi and Police Mitra, both UNICEF and the Police force stay in touch with the kids and their families. Solanki emphasised that these volunteers assist the families in realising that the police are not there to punish them but to assist and protect them.
Workshops are also conducted by UNICEF and the police to raise awareness of the threat of child trafficking.
According to data from the Rajasthan state government, the percentage of households living below the poverty line in the state was 50.11 percent in 2022 but fell to 42.31 percent in 2023.
Dungarpur is included among the population that is multidimensionally poor, according to the data. For this reason, the state government and UNICEF are attempting to concentrate on enhancing the socio-economic conditions in the district.
Health issues, particularly malnourishment and child mortality, are major problems in this district.
Even though India has made great strides in lowering child mortality, the issue is still quite serious. Other data from NFHS-5 (2019–2021) shows that India is not actually performing well. For instance, anaemia has increased. In comparison to the NFHS-4 (2015–16) estimate of 59%, as many as 67% of children between the ages of six months and five years during the NHFS-5 had anaemia (haemoglobin levels < 11.0 g/dl). Children with anaemia experience decreased growth and altered neurodevelopment. Only slightly different from the 38% indicated in NFHS-4, the NHFS-5 reported that 36% of children under the age of five are stunted (too short for their age).
Therefore, the emphasis must be on reaching the youngest and most marginalised children, with a special emphasis on girls. Less progress has been made in lowering newborn deaths than has been made in lowering under-five fatalities. India is responsible for about one-quarter of neonatal mortality and about one-sixth of under-five deaths worldwide.
Dr. Manisha Chawla explained to Muslim Mirror that UNICEF has been working in this area to enhance maternity, new-born, child, and adolescent health via engagement with communities, governments, and stakeholders.
Due to the fact that roughly 40% of newborn deaths and 50% of maternal deaths take place on the day of delivery, this day is the riskiest for both the mother and the newborn. As approximately five million newborns are delivered at home each year in India, steps must be taken to guarantee that every woman gives birth in a health facility with the assistance of a trained birth attendant.
Because of collective and sustained efforts, there has been a substantial increase in the number of institutional deliveries in the area, Dr. Chawla said.
It is to be noted that the proportion of institutional births has doubled in the country but this rise in the number of births has not been accompanied by a corresponding decline in maternal and infant mortality or stillbirths.
One of the major factors is inadequacies in the quality of care provided in health facilities, Dr. Chawla said. It is estimated that approximately 46% of maternal deaths, over 40% of stillbirths, and 25% of under-5 deaths take place on the day of delivery. Half of the maternal deaths each year can be prevented if we provide higher quality health care.
On the day of delivery, it is thought that 46% of maternal deaths, 40% of stillbirths, and 25% of deaths in children under the age of five occur. If we provide better quality healthcare, we can avert half of maternal deaths each year.
In light of this, on December 11, 2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare introduced the programme LaQshya—a quality improvement initiative in labour rooms and maternity care—with the goal of enhancing the standard of care provided to women and newborns during the intrapartum and immediately following the delivery of the baby.
The LaQshya programme was initiated by the district hospital in Dungarpur to reduce death rates and enhance labour and delivery services. According to Dr. Nilesh Gulati, the maternity operation theatre and labour room at DH Dungarpur both scored 98% and 97%, respectively, in the national LaQshya evaluation.
In addition, the paediatric division (SNCU, NRC, Paediatric Ward, and Paediatric OPD) scored 92% in the national MusQan assessment.
The Union Health Ministry launched the MusQan scheme to ensure the provision of quality child-friendly services from birth to children up to 12 years of age. DH Dungarpur is the first hospital in the country to take advantage of this scheme.
In order to lower preventable morbidity and mortality among infants and children, MusQan seeks to assure the provision of high-quality, child-friendly services in public health facilities. It includes all critical facets of a child’s growth and development, such as their physical, mental, and social growth. Additionally, the MusQan project seeks to explicitly raise the standard of childcare provided in Indian public facilities.
A multifaceted approach has been created under MusQan to make sure that any gaps between the operations of SNCUs, NBSUs, postnatal wards, paediatric OPD, and nutritional rehabilitation facilities and the quality requirements are filled as soon as feasible and are noticeable in the treatment given. The Paediatric OPD and Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre’s compliance with quality standards was accomplished as quickly as possible and was evident in the high degree of treatment provided.
UNICEF has significantly contributed to this cause by regularly training medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and health care assistants, as well as cleaning staff, on a monthly basis and as needed, and by continuously energising hospital employees, as a lot of the time, a heavy workload demotivates them.
Additionally, Unicef offered technical assistance, advocated at the facility, district, and state levels, conducted simulated exercises, and hosted visits from other facilities in order to learn about DH Dungarpur’s experiences during LaQshya and MusQan’s journey.