New Delhi: Nearly half (47.9%) the Indian households that have more than five children are severely deprived of shelter, water, sanitation, health and education as compared to 7.8% of poor families without children, according to the latest Indian Human Development Survey released on May 11, 2019.

Up to 24% of the world’s poor live in India, the fifth largest country by gross domestic product in 2017, according to the World Bank. India's richest 1% held 58% of the country's total wealth, which was higher than the global figure of about 50%, indicating extreme inequalities.

Poverty adversely affects the well-being of a poor family but it is often under-emphasised that it is not just adults but also children who severely increase the level of deprivation in a household, said the study which is a multi-topic survey of 42,556 households in 1,503 villages and 971 urban neighbourhoods across India between 2011 and 2012.

India is expected to add nearly 273 million people by 2050 and will surpass China as the world’s most populous country by 2027, according to the recent UN World Population Prospects 2019 report. Given the findings of IHDS survey, this could have serious implications for the lives of India’s poor.

Data collected during the survey reflected the vast inconsistency between rural and urban households--children in rural families are 2.1 times more likely to be deprived of basic necessities than in urban households. Better access to public institutions of health and education in urban areas helps them to cope with poverty.

Households with children where the main source of income is wage labour are much more impoverished than those with other forms of income. Precarious income through wage labour makes households with children 1.2 times more vulnerable than those engaged in cultivation or and businesses, the survey found.

Likewise, different castes and socio-religious groups showed disparity: 57.4% of Scheduled Tribe households with children lead a deprived life compared to 24.1% among forward castes. An intersection of marginal communities with wage labour as the main income source will, in all likelihood, push the household into a vicious cycle of poverty and inadequacy.

22% poverty rate in households with children, 8% without

The survey, which covered 42,556 households across rural and urban India, adopted six crucial indicators to determine a poor household--households without shelters where five or more people live in a single room or houses made up of mud or thatch, houses with no access to toilets and lack of sanitation, no direct access to water and households without information in the form of radio/TV/newspaper. Other major determinants are health where children under five years of age are not fully immunised and lack of education with less than five years of schooling.

The study found 22% poverty rate in households with children and 8% poverty rate in households without children. In rural areas, the poverty rate of households with children is 25% and those without children is 10%; in urban areas the difference is comparatively low--13% and 4% respectively.

Female literacy means better access to shelter, water, education and health

Female literacy has an overall impact on the lives of family members and rising levels of education result in progressively better access to shelter, water, sanitation, education, health, and information, irrespective of their economic status, the IHDS study found.

A household is 1.6 times more likely to be deprived in access to basic necessities such as shelter, sanitation, education and water if there is an illiterate woman in the family. Likelihood of a house being deprived falls to 1.4 times if the woman is educated till the middle school, and further declines to 1.3 times if the woman has attended secondary school, according to the study.

The more educated a woman is, the better equipped she is to stave off deprivation in the household. A mother’s education is proven to be more important than family wealth, as IndiaSpend reported on June 15, 2019.

Among households without children where women are educated till middle school, 32% have no access to shelter as compared to 30% of homes with children where women have completed secondary education. This indicated that the advantages of female literacy in reducing deprivation were blunted by the presence of more children, the study concluded.

The chances of household deprivation are 1.1 times higher for households headed by illiterate women compared to those headed by illiterate men, according to the report.

“As the traditional family pattern changes, an illiterate woman is forced to take up the role of the head of the family in a case where her husband migrates to the city for better job opportunities or the male head of the house dies,” said Sunil Kumar Mishra, a fellow at IHDS. “The household becomes more deprived in such a scenario. Children in joint families are less likely to face deprivation.”

Community, caste are significant factors too

The status of deprivation in India is linked with caste and religion. Among Muslim households with children, the chances of deprivation were found to be twice higher than among other communities, according to the IHDS report. Also, the chances of deprivation in SC and ST households with children are 1.5 times higher than those for Other Backward Class (OBC) and general caste households.

With extremely low literacy rate and engaged in wage labour, most of them do not have any land holdings, Scheduled Tribes are the most vulnerable of the groups, as reported by this February 28, 2018 IndiaSpend report. Among households with children employed in wage labour, 49.3% are water-deprived compared to 36.4% of those without children. The chances of deprivation of households in poorer states such as Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh is 1.2 times higher than in other states.

Lifting households with children out of poverty

Children and their families who are beneficiaries of social welfare schemes and have easier access to government services enjoy higher levels of wellbeing.

Bihar’s cycle programme, which was aimed to improve school access and reduce the gender gap in secondary school enrollment by providing girls with bicycles increased the probability of girls in the age group 14-15 years enrolling in or completing grade IX by 30%. It also increased their access to toilets, water, and sanitary napkins, said the study. But teacher absenteeism could act as a hindrance in a child’s development. The mid-day meal scheme improved school enrollment and increased the daily calorie intake and level of protein and iron among children.

The IHDS study found the possibility of a child getting involved in child labour low in poor households that are a part of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). The likelihood of children getting involved in child labour increased by 13.4% for boys and by 8.2% for girls in households not registered for MGNREGS.

“Even credit saving groups, such as self help groups, encouraged members to start small-scale and cottage activities,” said Misra. “SHGs have helped families discuss sanitation, health and disseminate information about government programmes. Creation of local leadership through such programmes has helped reduce childhood deprivation.”

(Ali is a reporter with IndiaSpend.)

We welcome feedback. Please write to We reserve the right to edit responses for language and grammar.