Located in north-western India, Rajasthan is the country’s largest state by area. At 342,239 km2, it encompasses 11 per cent of the total geographical area of the country. Along with this large area comes a wide and diverse topography: rolling sand dunes, fertile plains, rocky, undulating regions and even some forested areas. Still, a large proportion of the state is arid and Rajasthan is home to India’s biggest desert, the Thar.
Rajasthan has been at the forefront of India’seconomic reforms and is now among the country’s six fastest-growing states. Its main economy is agriculture, but industrial sectors such as textiles and vegetable oil and dye production also contribute significantly to the state’s GDP. Other private sector industries include steel, cement, ceramics and glassware, electronics, leather and footwear, stone and chemical industries.
Rajasthan has a thriving tourism industry thanks to its reputation at the “Land of Kings”. A strong royal past has left the state with many centuries-old palaces and princely estates to visit. As such, tourism accounts for 15 per cent of Rajasthan’s economy.
The state is home to more than 68 million people, almost 50 per cent of whom are under the age of 18 years (2011 census). It is predominantly rural, with 75 per cent of its population living in villages. More than 30 per cent of its population belongs to scheduled castes (17.8 per cent) and scheduled tribes (13.5 per cent).
Over recent decades, successive Rajasthan governments have shown a commitment to address the state’s many development concerns, especially those of children, adolescents and women. They have instituted the Girl Child Policy of 2012, to ensure the survival, growth and development and empowerment of girls, and have taken a lead in child labour programmes through a rare initiative to raise the bar on child labour from 14 to 18 years.
UNICEF has been an active partner, supporting government in planning and implementing programmes and working to accelerate progress on social development indicators. After large investments in the health sector targeting children through the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programmes, there have been tangible improvements. These are reflected in the decline in the IMR and improvements in other morbidity and mortality indicators.
However, the improvements have not been adequate and there are several challenges that continue to affect the health status of children, particularly neonatal health. Rajasthan’s feudal, strongly patriarchal and caste-centred society has fostered social norms that continue to impede the progress of social development in the state, particularly on child protection issues and age-appropriate learning outcomes in elementary and secondary education.