New Delhi: India ranks 113 of 176 countries on an index that evaluates countries on the wellbeing of children. The End of Childhood Index is part of the Global Childhood Report released on May 28, 2019, by Save the Children, a nonprofit that works for child rights.

The index evaluates countries on eight indicators to determine the wellbeing of children and teenagers (0-19 years): mortality among children under five years of age, malnutrition that stunts growth, lack of education, child labour, early marriage, adolescent births, displacement by conflict and child homicide. A final score out of 1,000 is derived, and countries are ranked accordingly.

Between 2000 and 2019, India’s score rose from 632 to 769. India also improved its rank from 116 of 172 countries in 2018 to, as we said, 113 of 176 countries this year.

In the year 2000, an estimated 970 million children around the world were deprived of their childhood because of these causes. By 2019, that number fell 29% to 690 million.

An increase in public investments, and intervention through programmes targeted at marginalised children to ensure universal healthcare and education are needed to help improve the wellbeing of children, the report suggests.

A minimum financial security for all children through child-sensitive social protection needs to be on governments’ agenda, the report says, adding that adopting a national action plan to reduce and eliminate child poverty, together with dedicated budgets and monitoring systems that track improvements in poverty-related deprivations, will help achieve better childhood outcomes.

Infectious diseases cause most deaths of Indian children under five

India has reduced its child mortality rate by 55% in the last two decades, from 88 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 39 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017, according to data from this 2018 report. Yet, it lags the Millennium Development Goal of 25 or fewer deaths per 1,000 live births.

These deaths are mostly attributed to preventable infectious diseases, followed by injuries, meningitis, measles and malaria.

Among neighbouring countries, India’s performance on under-five mortality was better only than that of Pakistan (74.9). Sri Lanka (8.8), China (9.3), Bhutan (30.8), Nepal (33.7) and Bangladesh (32.4) have all outperformed India.

38.4% Indian children are stunted

Between 2000 and 2019, the prevalence of stunting--low height for age--among children below age five fell 25% globally--from 198 million children to 149 million. More than 50% of this reduction was in China and India alone, the reports says.

As of 2018, 38.4% Indian children under five were stunted, the second worst performance compared to its neighbours after Pakistan (40.8%). China (6%) had the lowest rate in the region, followed by Nepal (13.8%), Sri Lanka (17.3%), Bangladesh (17.4%) and Bhutan (19.1%), the report says.

There are wide disparities between states in India--while 48.3% children are stunted in Bihar, 45.3% in Jharkhand and 37.6% in Chhattisgarh, Kerala has the least at 19%, followed by Tamil Nadu (27.1%), according to data from the National Family Health Survey, 2015-16.

1 in 5 Indian children is out of school

Despite India’s advances at giving free universal education to its children, 20.2% of them (aged 8-16) were still out of school as of 2018, according to data cited in the report. Compared to its neighbors, India performed better only than Pakistan (40.8%), while Sri Lanka (6.4%), Nepal (13.8%), Bangladesh (17.4%), Bhutan (19.1%) and China (7.6%) did better.

As of 2018, 152 million children were still engaged in child labour around the world, the report says, adding that a hypothetical country made up only of these child labourers would rank as the world’s ninth largest by population.

India has the most child labourers globally, as IndiaSpend reported in June 2017, depriving them of education and exposing them to unsafe and toxic environment--leading to irrecoverable health damage.

Between 2000 and 2018, child marriage in India fell 51%

India halved its number of child marriages in 18 years to 2018, while marriage rates for the poorest girls fell at least as much as for everyone else, data from the report show. The decline has been fastest among girls younger than 15.

In 1978, India raised the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 for girls and from 18 to 21 for boys. In the last two decades, India has worked to curb child marriage through legislation such as the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and schemes such as the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (called ‘SABLA’), Kishori Shakti Yojana and Nutrition Programme for Adolescent Girls.

The decline is attributed to economic growth, rising rates of girls’ education and proactive investments by government, the report says. Community-based interventions such as empowerment counseling, sexual and reproductive health information, vocational training and life-skills development for girls have also been important factors. Schemes such as conditional cash transfers to educate the girl child have also helped reduce child marriage, the report notes.

Adolescent births in India fell 63% in 20 years

India has managed to reduce adolescent births by 63% since 2000, which has resulted in 2 million fewer young mothers. Progress in India alone accounts for nearly three-quarters of the global reduction in adolescent births--from 16 million to 13 million.

Child-bearing at a young age not only has fatal consequences for the baby but also for the mother, and makes for the leading cause of death for girls between 14 and 19 years of age.

Much of India’s progress has been the result of its social welfare programmes that have enabled more girls to stay in school, and increased access to sexual and reproductive health services.

As of 2018, adolescent birth rate--that is, births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 years--in India was 24.5, higher than that in China (6.5), Sri Lanka (14.8) and Bhutan (22.1), and better than that in Pakistan (37.7), Nepal (62.1) and Bangladesh (84.4).

(Sana Ali is a reporter with IndiaSpend.)

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