HAPPY, HEALTHY AND CREATIVE CHILDREN
Birthdays come and go but is there meaning to the event beyond celebrations and fanfare? On an age axis as a free country at sixty seven we seem `old’ but relatively speaking we are a young population where every third person is a child under the age of 18. It is time for us to again ask ourselves whether we are doing enough for our children.
Every child born in this country should be sufficiently nourished from before birth until they turn 18 years old, and should be provided good, quality education and health services. However, in the two decades since India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) children in our country are still out of school, unhealthy, malnourished, abused, trafficked and legally allowed to work even before they are officially recognized as adults.
Almost 40 per cent of Indian children are underweight, and 45 per cent are stunted due to malnourishment . 55 per cent of under-five mortality occurs from complications resulting from malnutrition . We have in place a unique centrally sponsored national flagship scheme by the Government of India known as the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) which aims at addressing health, nutrition and development needs of young children (0-6 years), pregnant women and nursing mothers. Since the last 35 years, it has successfully expanded and reached out to 7.6 crore children (12th FYP).
In the wake of the Mid Day Meal disaster, we need to ask the bigger question – why does this country lack the commitment to invest in implementing mechanisms to see through seemingly progressive policy statements? India is home to the world’s largest school-feeding project – the Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS). Estimated to serve over 12 crore children in 12.65 lakh schools across the country, it was launched as a means to improve the nutritional status of children, encourage poor children belonging to disadvantaged sections to attend school more regularly and help them concentrate on classroom activities, thereby increasing the enrolment, retention and attendance rates in schools.
Both these schemes are still grappling with a range of issues from inadequate human resources to infrastructure facilities. This coupled with weak monitoring and supervision, poor quality training and delay in provision of supplies and food rations hampers delivery of essential government services to the people. Is enough being done to truly ensure the wellbeing of our children?
India recently completed three years of implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009. By the government’s own estimation, 8,150,618 children are still out of school and nearly 92 lakh children have either dropped out from schools or have never been to any educational institution in the year 2009-10.
Moreover, children between the ages of 15 and 18 years find themselves out of the ambit of the RTE Act; they are, however, welcomed into the labour force under the auspice of the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act (CLPRA) which allows children 15 years and above to work.
Interestingly, the National Policy for Children (NPC), 2012, defines a child as a person who has not completed 18 years of age, and reaffirms the Government’s commitment to the realisation of the rights of all children by stating ‘every child is unique and a supremely important national asset’. However after all these years we are still far away from harmonizing age definition of children across legislations.
Throughout this year a disturbing number of cases were reported of children being sexually assaulted, abused and brutalized by those meant to protect them. It is welcome to see a special Act for the protection of children – The Protection of Children against Sexual Offence Act, 2012 (POCSO) which addresses gaps in existing legislative framework. However, a closer look at the Act reveals that it does not deal with measures to prevent abuse but only covers actions to be taken after the child has suffered sexual violence. It does not speak much about rehabilitation and reintegration of victims of abuse but merely defines different types of abuse and the different kinds of punishments for the same, and in doing so it falls short.
It is time we put our ‘robust’ looking policies into action and ensure effective implementation to bring about a lasting change for children. As we struggle to live up to our image as “The Next Superpower”, the truth is, we need to translate our policies for children into effective change on-ground such that it helps us fulfil our primary duty towards our young citizens.
Across 34 years of working with children, their families and communities, CRY has learnt that issues affecting children are complex. Child development is serious business which requires not only great vision but also commitment by government and citizens to see it through to its logical end.
It requires that we, start thinking of children, not as objects of sympathy, but as citizens with the same rights that we consider due to us. It is important that the everyday policies and everyday choices we make must always address root causes of children’s problems and not just address superficial manifestations.
i. National Family Health Survey – 3
ii. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (Govt. of India)