India's population has surged to an estimated 144 crore, with 24% falling in the 0-14 age group, as per the latest UNFPA report. In a report titled "Interwoven Lives, Threads of Hope: Ending Inequalities in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights," the United Nations Population Fund's (UNFPA) disclosed that India's population is expected to double in 77 years.

The report highlighted that India leads globally with an estimated population of 144.17 crore, surpassing China at 142.5 crore. The last census in 2011 recorded India's population at 121 crore. The report elaborated that approximately 24% of India's population is aged 0-14, while 17% falls within the 10-19 age bracket. The age group of 10-24 constitutes around 26%, with 68% belonging to the 15-64 age range. Additionally, 7% of India's population is aged 65 years and above, with men having a life expectancy of 71 years and women 74 years.

The report further states that despite 30 years of progress in sexual and reproductive health, marginalised communities worldwide have been largely overlooked. It pointed out that India's child marriage rate stood at 23% between 2006-2023. However, maternal deaths in India have significantly decreased, accounting for 8% of global fatalities in this category.

“India started the journey with many more deaths, accounting for 26% of all maternal deaths in 1990, compared to Nigeria, which accounted for 10%,” the report adds.

While acknowledging India's achievements in improving access to affordable and quality maternal health services and addressing gender discrimination's impact on health outcomes, the report also underscored significant disparities in maternal death risks across the country.

Recent studies conducted across India's 640 districts have shown that while close to a third of these districts have successfully met the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of reducing maternal mortality ratios to below 70 per 100,000 live births, 114 districts still report ratios of 210 or higher deaths per 100,000 live births. The most alarming rate, at 1,671 deaths per 100,000 births, is observed in Tirap District of Arunachal Pradesh, which is predominantly rural and has a substantial indigenous population. The report emphasised that factors such as socioeconomic status, ethnicity, caste, or religion play a crucial role in health outcomes.

Moreover, the report highlighted the increased vulnerability of women with disabilities to gender-based violence and noted that improvements in healthcare access primarily benefit wealthier and certain ethnic groups, leaving behind marginalised communities.

“Women with disabilities are up to 10 times more likely to experience gender-based violence, including sexual violence,” the report states.

The report also shed light on the challenges faced by Dalit women in India, advocating for legal protections against caste-based discrimination in workplaces and education to break the cycle of poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

“The workforce is 80% women, 60% of whom are from the Dalit community,” it adds.

Natalia Kanem, executive director, United Nations Population Fund states, “Today at least 162 countries have adopted laws against domestic violence, and maternal deaths have decreased by 34% since 2000. Nearly half of women still are unable to make decisions about their own bodies — unable to exercise their sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

“New evidence in this report shows that although women across socioeconomic classes and ethnicities say barriers to health care have come down over time, the women most marginalised have experienced the least improvement. Women and girls with disabilities face up to 10 times more gender-based violence while also facing higher barriers to sexual and reproductive information and care,” she adds.

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