Don’t be fooled by India’s economic boom – for a vast swathe of the population the situation has not improved in generations. Hundreds of millions are trapped by caste and gender discrimination, and by the cycle of:  poverty–> child labour–>no education–>poverty. These people endure some of the worst conditions experienced anywhere in the world. For instance, an Indian child is more likely to be malnourished, have inadequate sanitation, not attend school, remain illiterate and marry underage, than is a child from Africa or any other global region. (See Statistics).

India 1,065 million
Children <18 years 420 million
Children <5 years 118 million
Living on <$1/day 360 million
      of whom, children 140 million
Orphans 35 million
HIV/AIDS infected 5.2 million
Rajasthan 56 million
Jaipur 3 million
Some Indicators and International Comparisons:
India World
31% of infants are born with low birth-weight 14% in Sub-Saharan Africa
15% in Middle-East & North Africa
7%   in East Asia
9%   in Latin America
7% of infants die before their 1st birthday 10% in Sub-Saharan Africa
4%   in Middle-East & North Africa
3%   in East Asia
3%   in Latin America
46% of children under 5 are malnourished 28% in Sub-Saharan Africa
14% in Middle-East & North Africa
16% in East Asia
7%   in Latin America
31% of children have adequate sanitation facilities 36% in Sub-Saharan Africa
72% in Middle-East & North Africa
50% in East Asia
75% in Latin America
61% of children reach grade 5 at school 66% in Sub-Saharan Africa
91% in Middle-East & North Africa
93% in East Asia
83% in Latin America
58% adult literacy rate 60% in Sub-Saharan Africa
67% in Middle-East & North Africa
90% in East Asia
90% in Latin America
64% gender parity rate (literate women as % of literate men) 76% in Sub-Saharan Africa
74% in Middle-East & North Africa
91% in East Asia
98% in Latin America
46% of children enter into child marriage (1986-2004) 40% in Sub-Saharan Africa
  n/a   in Middle-East & North Africa
  20% in East Asia
  25% in Latin America
Statistics: Unicef, 2005

Perhaps the most disadvantaged group in India is the millions of street children who live or work on the street. Street children have fallen through society’s cracks – there are few ladders for them to climb back up. They live as their parents did and as their own children are likely to do.

Children live and work on the street because their parents are poor, or they are orphans, or they have run away from home, often to escape abuse. They are invariably malnourished, receive scant education or medical treatment, and are involved in child labour from an early age. Child prostitution and sexual abuse are also major problems, as is addiction to drugs. These children live in a different world to the emerging middle class. Taken as a separate nation, they represent one of the neediest peoples on the planet.