Over 460 million children await justice from the new govt

Unicef has been running a campaign asking people to “Help get 8.1 million children back to school.”

The mailer says, “India is shining but 81,50,618 children aged 8 to 13 years are still out of school. These children are the future of the country and can contribute to the growth story but only if they get help in time.” 

Going by the current trends of political discourse and priorities, it does not look like this help will come anytime soon.

The manifestos of mainstream parties have blatantly ignored the needs, aspirations and challenges faced by children — a whopping 463 million — a constituent of Indian population which shall shape the India of tomorrow.

The recent order by Delhi high court on ensuring the rights of children to play in city’s thousands of parks is case in point of the apathy of political system towards the children.

Out of the 14,000 parks in Delhi, only 126 are designed for children, leaving majority of city’s kids to play on street.

It is unfortunate the courts had to intervene in this matter, which should well have been the prerogative of successive governments, obsessed with flyovers and malls!

Some of the government figures are disturbing. In 2011 the crimes against children reported a 24 per cent increase -- a total of 33,098 cases as compared to 26,694 cases during 2010.

This is as per a report Children in India 2012 – A Statistical Appraisal, by Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

The 2011 census estimates the population of children below 6 years at 158.8 million.

Nearly 40 per cent of these children are undernourished which means more than 63 million children suffer malnutrition.

Nutritional problems are substantial in every state in India.

As per the Millennium Development Goal priority one is of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

India is therefore, committed to halving the prevalence of underweight children by 2015. However, the report says, “All-India trend of the proportion of underweight (severe and moderate) children below three years of age shows India is going slow in eliminating the effect of malnutrition.

The proportion of underweight children has declined by only 3 percentage points during 1998-99 to 2005-06, ie from about 43 per cent to about 40 per cent.”

Child labour too is a worry. The census noted an increase in the number of child labourers from 11.28 million in 1991 to 12.66 million in 2001.

In addition, nearly 85 per cent child labourers in India are hard-to-reach, invisible and excluded, as they work largely in the urban and rural unorganised sectors within the family or in household-based units.

The Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 1986 aims to prohibit the entry of children into hazardous occupations and to regulate the services of children in non-hazardous occupations but still a significant portion of children in the country are engaged in such activities, says the report.

Child rights

To be fair to the policy makers, we have a string of legislations to protect the rights of children.

The number of rights and privileges given to the children in the Constitution of India, duly supported by legal protection, bears a testimony to the realisation that this group does require special attention.

During the last decade, various path breaking legislations like the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 etc have been made to suitably strengthen the legal provisions.

A series of measures cutting across gender, caste, ethnicity and region have been initiated by the government in past several years to realise the all inclusive growth devoid of exclusion and discrimination.

However, yawning gaps remain and magnitude of the problems pertaining to children remains huge. To address this and find enduring solutions, we shall require a comprehensive multi-stakeholder collaborative intervention.

A study ‘State of Children in South Asia’ by a European Union funded project ‘Civil Society Alliance for Child Rights in South Asia’ has proposed a “strong political and community will” to create a child-friendly world and recommends a multi-layered, multi-stakeholder intervention.

And many of its recommendations merit attention in the Indian context.

The report, which forms part of the South Asian Alliance for Grassroots NGOs (SAAGN), also calls judiciary to take measures for the speedy trial and disposal of children-related cases and avoid their detention as far as possible.

Considering misuse of law, it calls that, “cases of police officers who mishandle juvenile cases should be recorded and should be counted against promotion.” 

It also recommends that police stations must be made more child-friendly with children’s desk, emotionally balanced and sensitive police personnel and posters on child rights and protection.

It has a word of advise on media also. The study calls upon the media to promote advocacy messages regarding child rights, restorative justice and the importance of prevention, diversion and alternatives to detention and publicise positive outcomes with young offenders.

In every reporting related to children, the media should respect the privacy and best interest of children.

There is also a need to give careful consideration to the language used to describe children, to avoid patronising and demeaning words.

As India gets ready for a new leap on May 16 (the day of General Election results), many hope the new group of policy makers shall echo Nelson Mandela’s sentiments: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

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