The sorry state of Delhi’s women labourers

July 27th, 2008 - 11:48 am ICT by IANS  

By Prashant K. Nanda
New Delhi, July 27 (IANS) They live and work in the capital, but the city’s 200,000 women labourers - most of whom work at construction sites - along with their children are some of the worst sufferers when it comes to health indices. Nearly 48 percent of them got married before the legal age of 18, and 46 percent of the ones among them who were mothers also had their first baby before that age, says a new study carried out by voluntary organisation Mobile Creche.

The study found that “80 percent of the child deliveries were without a trained birth attendant”. Around 10 percent of mothers have experienced death of their newborn.

“Only 32 percent of the mothers had exclusively breastfed their kids till six months and an even lower percentage (18 percent) offered colostrums to their baby. All these factors impacted the nutrition grades of the children,” the study mentions.

Doing a comparison, the study shows that while 56 percent of children in India - the national average - get supplementary food at six months, the figure is just 31 percent for the children of Delhi’s construction workers.

The malnourishment level among these kids is around 70 percent, the study reveals.

“The parents are poor and the government does not bother about these kids. They do not get enough food, nutrition and care. The malnourishment level among these kids is very high,” Mridula Bajaj, executive director of Mobile Creche, told IANS.

Among the women surveyed at construction sites, 52 percent were suffering from chronic energy deficiency. While 24 percent of these workers had normal body weight index, seven percent were overweight.

Apart from health parameters, the study found that in 84 percent of the cases, the wife migrated because the husband had done so.

Talking about the existing disparity in the earnings of male and female construction workers, the study said: In most instances (68 percent cases), the husband earned more than the wife.”

Half of the construction workers interviewed had migrated within the last two years and 25 percent have been staying in Delhi for five years or above.

Nearly 60 percent of migrant construction workers had migrated from another city, while 37 percent had moved from their villages, the study revealed.

“The frequent mobility of the families threatens children’s education and also access to government facilities that settled families usually enjoy,” the study mentions.

Bajaj said the majority of construction workers in Delhi are from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

“The construction labourers are working to give a new look to the national capital but they have no identity. No one knows about their plight. This study is a small step in airing their voice in public,” Bajaj added.

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