Poverty is a complex problem with many consequences. Families living in the poorest countries in the world often face significant challenges, including food insecurity, underemployment and a lack of access to basic medical care, all of which can jeopardize children's development. However, without a healthy start, many children are unlikely to reach their full potential. In India, one of the fastest growing economic powers in the world, this is a serious problem for many families. ChildFund has worked in India since 1951, and ensuring that children receive the start they need is one of our primary objectives.
India has a population of approximately 1.2 billion, with 37 percent living below the poverty line. Some parts of the country, like the northeastern provinces, have significantly higher poverty rates, and malnutrition and associated developmental challenges are one of the most urgent problems for many Indian families.
Data from UNICEF indicates that between 2007 and 2011, almost one-third of Indian children were born at a low birth weight. Approximately 43 percent of children were moderately to severely underweight. In addition, almost half of children born between 2007 and 2011 suffered from moderate to severe growth stunting as a result of poor nutrition. One-fifth of children also experienced wasting, which causes muscle and fat tissue to deteriorate, during the same period.
In addition to the lack of availability of healthy food in rural India, social factors also play a major role in children's development. Many of India's poorest people belong to lower social castes; groups into which people are born, limiting potential employment. Although the grip of castes has decreased in recent years with India's economic growth, children in lower castes still face disadvantages, including fewer educational opportunities. ChildFund focuses many of our efforts on helping families emerge from generational poverty by providing greater access to education.
Much progress has been made in India in recent years, but these figures highlight just how important healthy-start interventions are to millions of Indian children. Last year, ChildFund helped more than 1.6 million children and their parents, including people belonging to scheduled castes and tribes. Of the families ChildFund assists in India, almost 40 percent belong to these historically marginalized groups.
Prenatal and neonatal care are among our top priorities in India's poorest provinces. Our healthy-start initiatives place great emphasis on training local people to offer more comprehensive support and assistance to expectant mothers before, during and after their pregnancies. In addition, we help mothers learn how to care for their babies and children more effectively by providing them with training on crucial health care such as breastfeeding, immunization, personal hygiene and management of preventable illnesses.
Last year, we established more than 1,900 early childhood development centers in villages across India. At these facilities, children between the ages of 0 and 6 receive informal education as well as nutritious food to ensure they develop to their full potential physically, emotionally and cognitively. These centers also serve as community hubs where mothers and caregivers can receive training on early childhood health care.
Although donations are a vital source of funding for our operations in India, child sponsorship remains the most important means of supporting our initiatives. More than 65,000 children are sponsored in India, but many more children need help. If you are interested in making a difference, please sponsor a child.