Budgets must prioritize urban deprived children

Deprived child (AFP Photo)

By Alka Singh,

Can we do something than turning our face away in shame and helplessness when a little child standing on her toes bangs on the car window trying to sell a toy, flowers or our national flag? Questions like ‘Who are these children’ ‘’Why are they there’ ‘Is there a provision to help them get a home, food, family and make them feel loved and protected- a basic entitlement we are committed to giving our children? Needs an urgent solution.
This year (2019) marks completion of 30 years of UN Convention for Child Rights, promises that the world made to its children of a happy, healthy and safe childhood. With Sustainable Development Goals India also promised ‘leaving no one behind’ and that is possible only by reaching the deprived section with contextualized interventions. Fourteenth Finance Commission was a revolutionary step in getting more funds devolved to states. Bu, evidently, changes in the structure of federal transfers have not influenced the priorities of States in favor of Social services. Share of expenditure on Social Services in total Expenditure has declined from 37.76% in 2013-14 to 37.16% in 2016-17. Similarly, when it comes to prioritizing children, 14 General Category States and 7 Special Category States have declining shares. In most states, the fall in the share of child expenditure is higher than the fall in the share of social sector expenditure. Further, poor expenditure versus allocations of some key flagship programmes like National Health Mission indicates the system needs strengthened structure.
The ‘Last Child’ in rural and ‘Urban’ context remains unreached, and 30th anniversary of UN Child Rights Convention is an opportunity for us to introspect to keep our promises.
Children in Street Situation are amongst the most deprived, if you are wondering how big is the problem then Save the Children’s study ‘Life on the streets’ 2016 estimates the number of children in street situations to be around 2 million in India. Moreover, the biggest challenge in getting support to Children in Street Situation is that they remain ‘Invisible’. More than half of them do not have any documentary proof of their existence, nor is this population (of more than 2 million) counted under Census or major surveys that can lead to getting them space in policies or dedicated efforts to rehabilitate them. These children, in most cases, are exposed to violence, substance abuse, hunger, and lack basic facilities like shelter and water-sanitation and do not have access to education and solutions are as complex as the problem. 
Though India is urbanizing at an impressive pace today, cities did not capture the imagination of policy makers in India immediately after independence, as we were a predominantly agricultural country. For the longest time, the urban question was largely addressed as an auxiliary within the concerns for balanced regional development, industrial growth and housing provision.
The policy response to urbanization reflects a fixation with cities as drivers of growth. Hence, there is a push towards more and better infrastructure delivered through programmes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and many second-generation urban programmes like AMRUT, Smart City Mission. On the other hand, urban economic growth has also yielded tensions over resource allocation decisions not only between rural and urban areas but also within urban areas themselves. In addition, urban areas are also witnessing an increase in inequality, informal employment and deterioration in the quality of work and life.
What does this imply for ‘children on the street’? Findings from study ‘Life on the streets’ reveal that the issues of street children are interlinked to the larger evolution of urbanization and urban development and are a result of several complex factors that interact with each other and influence outcomes. For instance, a large part of the problem for street children seems to be located in the lack of shelter/affordable housing, which pushes poor migrant families to the margins (‘Life on the streets’ indicated that 47% of the street children in these five cities were ‘children of street living families’). This residential vulnerability is further worsened by the lack of basic services such as adequate and nutritious food, safe potable water and clean sanitation facilities. This not only leads to a degradation in their quality of life but also affects their prospects in terms of upward social and economic mobility. These street children often end up engaging in odd jobs such as rag picking, street vending, beggary and become part of a large informal economy, which lacks social security.
Draft National Urban Policy Framework 2018 focuses on provisioning of basic services along with housing and shelter to urban poor and deprived including street connected children. This target group is also a key focus area of Government of India’s ongoing urban programmes and missions such as AMRUT, Smart Cities, Swacchh Bharat, PMAY, and NULM etc.  It is thus vital and opportune moment if the budget for urban sector prioritised the needs of these vulnerable groups, as it will be catalytic in achieving the inclusionary and sustainable urbanisation, as envisaged in the policy framework. This increased allocation for this segment and strengthen system to ensure expenditure will not only pave the way for the next five years but will ensure India’s urban development with ‘Leave no one behind’ and ‘Leave no place behind’.  

The author is Head Advocacy at Save the Children

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