14-year-old Kamal still remembers the time he worked 24-hour shifts in a roadside restaurant. Now back in school, and excelling as an athlete, he even managed to win a trophy for his district in a 400 metre race, making his parents, school and community proud. “Sometimes, I feel this is all a dream,” he says.
Kamal spent his childhood in a violent environment, replete with physical and verbal abuse. Steeped in poverty, his parents forced him into child labour. At the roadside eatery, he earned around Rs. 5,000 for two years.
In many ways, that Kamal now goes to school and is a favourite with school administration is nothing short of dream. But, it was only after intervention from Save The Children, a child rights organisation, that Kamal’s life improved and he was able to realise his rights and, eventually, his dreams.
For at least 700 million children in the world, who suffer deprivations “that undeniably undermines children’s rights”, this dreaming is a luxury, since their childhoods get destroyed due to a variety of factors. From poor health to conflict, child marriage or early pregnancy or, like in Kamal’s case, due to child labour and exclusion from education, there are a host of reasons that prevent children from enjoying their childhoods, a new report by Save the Children (STC) has revealed.
Sunil*, for instance, left the care of home and gave up the benefits of education when 14 to work as a ragpicker at the Ghazipur landfill in Delhi. He told YKA earlier this year that he had to leave home because there wasn’t even enough money to feed everybody at his home in Nandigram, West Bengal. “Those were days that I cannot even think about. There was a lot of tension at home,” he said.
According to Stolen Childhoods – End of Childhood Report 2017, India, the country where Kamal and Sunil were born and raised, ranks 116 among 172 countries on an index especially developed to measure how protected childhood in different countries is. The report is a first in what is going to be an annual exercise of ranking countries based on latest available data.
The End of Childhood index uses 8 indicators to measure this. Indicators related to under-5 mortality rate, stunting, out-of-school children, child labour, child marriage, adolescent birth rate, population displacement due to conflict, and child homicide were used to generate a score to rank countries.
India has a ‘moderate’ under-5 mortality rate, with 47.7 children out of 1,000 children born dead before the age of 5 in 2015. Addressing the issue of stunting caused due to malnutrition is also something India has performed poorly in compared to other countries. About 39 percent children aged 0-59 months were stunted, according to the latest figures available for the period 2011-2016.
While Kamal was put to work by his poor parents, Papiya Khatoon in West Bengal was married off by her mother at the age of 14 since her mother was unable to care for her 3 daughters on her own. And while Khatoon now is working towards the cause of ending child marriages in India, she is one among the many girl children who are married before the legal age of marriage in India. 21.1 percent girls between the ages of 15-19 share Khatoon’s fate, and are married off before they are even adults, according to latest data, the report states. It is also another area where India’s performance is ‘moderate’ compared to other countries.
According to the rankings, the top 10 performing countries, where children live most in accordance with internationally-agreed standards, are all European, while the bottom 10 are all African. Norway, with a score of 985, leads the world in providing the best for its children. India with a score of 754 lies in the 3rd of a total of four categories of countries grouped on the basis of their ranking. Niger, with a score of 384, sits at the bottom of the list.
Seven of the ten countries at the bottom are from West and Central Africa. “Children in these countries are the least likely to fully experience childhood, a time that should be dedicated to emotional, social and physical development, as well as play. In these and many other countries around the world, children are robbed of significant portions of their childhoods,” the report says. However, the report adds that there have been signs of progress in these countries too.
The report also adds that there seems to be a correlation between a country’s wealth status and the state of its children. “The data collected for the End of Childhood Index document tremendous gaps between rich and poor countries and the urgent need to accelerate progress for the most vulnerable children,” it says.
In 2015, global leaders pledged to address this gap between rich and poor countries as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. They also committed to ending inequalities between rich and poor children. The STC report asks that these commitments “be upheld”. “Only then will we realize its potential to transform the lives of millions of children across the world, guaranteeing every last child the childhood they deserve,” the report observes.