DROWNING has alarmingly remained for long ‘a silent killer’ of children in the country. As New Age reported on Saturday quoting the results of a UNICEF study, more than 12,500 children die every year from drowning before they become five, while 5,500 more die between the age of 5 and 17 years. Also, a report in the health ministry bulletin says that cases of drowning of children aged 0 to 18 top the chart. Moreover, the number of children dying from drowning is much higher than the deaths from measles, bronchitis, diphtheria and tuberculosis. Although these deaths occur throughout the year, incidence is highest during the monsoon. Besides, the risk of a child dying from drowning increases with the proximity of water bodies to the household. A lot of children die where settlements are near the river or ocean, particularly during full and blue moon when the waters rise. Children also die from tidal surges as they are the least capable of coping with the adversities. In the tidal surge of 1970, 1.2 million people died, half of whom were children. In the 1991 tidal surge, the proportion was the same.
Children playing in the inflated rivers, canals, ponds, ditches and other water bodies die frequently, while, according to the UNICEF study, children, who cannot swim, ‘are 4.5 times more vulnerable to drowning than those who can swim in this riverine country’. In this context, one has reasons to believe that creating social awareness, giving training on how to swim and installing bamboo-made fences around the ponds can significantly reduce deaths in drowning. Capacity building of parents and effective social and family security can bring down the mortality rate as well. It is important to note that children belonging to poor and marginalised families account for the most children falling victim to drowning. This is, perhaps, why, successive governments, including the incumbents, allegedly biased against disadvantaged groups of people, have so far remained indifferent to the issue.
In any case, the government needs to realise that such deaths are a loss not only to the families concerned but also the nation as the children, if provided with proper environment including education, would contribute to the progress of the nation in various ways. It is also a question of the violation of child rights the government is constitutionally obligated to ensure for all children irrespective of the social and economic status. Above all, the government is committed to the United Nations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals that include the reduction of child mortality rate within a stipulated period. If it remains indifferent to the problem at hand, it will defeat the achievement so far made by the government in significantly reducing child mortality from various diseases. Hence, it needs to come up with effective measures to address the issue without any delay. Also, conscious section of society, especially rights organisations on children, need to raise sustained voice over the issue.
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