This Union Budget has prioritized social sectors including health and education, with grand announcements by the FM such as National Health Protection Scheme and RISE initiative for Higher Education. However, the same does not hold true for India’s 472 million children. The total Budget for Children remains stagnant at 3.23% of the Union Budget with 79088 crores allocated for children over last year’s allocation of 71305 crores (an 11% increase).
The Finance Minister categorically recognised the need for moving towards achieving quality education as well as strengthening inclusion in public education through increased numbers of Eklavya schools. There was clear mention of modernizing education through bringing in technology-based initiatives though the reality would be clearer in the details. Also with the allocation of 2925 crores, the National Nutrition Mission seems to have taken off which is a certainly a positive indication. Crucially missing in this budget is a vision for transforming the currently restrictive child protection framework and budgetary allocations for the same.
A total of 16334.88 crores have been allocated for ICDS/Anganwadi services or approximately 7.1% increase over year. The amounts allocated for key schemes in Education have been kept at the same level. Rs. 26128.81 crores for Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) (11.2% increase); Rashtriya Madyamik Siksha Abhiyan (RMSA) with Rs. 4213 crore allocation (7.6% increase), and Mid Day Meal (MDM) with Rs. 10500 crores allocation which has seen 500 crores increase over last year.
“In 2015 we adopted the targets set through Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for children’s development and in 2016 the National Plan of Action for Children was adopted. Substantial financial investment is a prerequisite for change for children in order to meet these targets. It is an opportunity lost with continued trends of incremental increase since an exponential increase in budgets for children was the prerequisite for fulfilling dreams for our children,” said Komal Ganotra, the Director of Policy Advocacy and Research at CRY – Child Rights and You.
Here is a quick analysis of what the budget means for children in India.
Overall allocation for school education and literacy has increased by 6.48% from 45839.46 crores (RE 2017-18) to 48811.45 crores (BE 2018-19). (This includes budget for Central Tibetan Schools Administration, Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, Education Scheme for Madrasas and Minorities, National Bal Bhavan, National Means cum Merit Scholarship, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), Navodaya Vidyalaya, National Scheme for Incentives to Girl Child for Secondary Education and Mid-day Meal (MDM) Scheme).
Specifically, the SSA allocation (elementary education) increased from Rs. 23500 (RE 2017-18) to Rs. 26128.8 crores (BE 2018-19), RMSA (secondary education) allocation increased from Rs. 3914.4 crores (RE 2017-18) to Rs. 4213 crores (BE 2018-19) and MDM allocations increased from Rs. 10,000 crores (2017-18) to Rs. 10,500 crores (2018-19).
There are about 6.1 million children between 6-13 years who are presently out-of school (Independent Survey, MHRD 2014). The National Plan of Action for Children (2016) targets to bring the Net Enrolment Rate (NER) or age-appropriate enrollment at primary and upper primary grades to 100 percent before 2021. The rate is currently 87.30 percent for primary and 74.74 percent for upper primary level (DISE 2015-16). As recognized in the Budget Speech, the need for improving quality of education and enhancing teaching-learning environment in classes, this increase of 2628 crores for over 6 million children attending our government schools may not be sufficient.
Out of every 100 children, only 56 are able to complete their school education (DISE 2015-16). If we want every child to be in school, studying, learning as well as completing education, we would require significantly more than Rs. 4213 crores to provide universal access to secondary education by 2021.
The mid day meal scheme saw a minimal increase of Rs. 500 crore. This scheme plays a key role in nutrition and retention of children in elementary education and is an important aspect guaranteed under the RTE Act. Considering the proposals by various governments on improving quality of mid-day meals and extending it to secondary education provided, the incremental increase in this scheme may fall short in ensuring the desired quality of mid-day meals to all children studying in our government schools.
The child protection system in India at present is highly reactive and symptomatic, responding only once a violation has already taken place and the child victimized.
In addition, the design and provisions of laws are also structurally insufficient to ensure implementation. The allocations towards Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), the only scheme in India that addresses child protection increased by 77 crores from Rs. 648 crores (RE 2017-18) to Rs. 725 crores (BE) which is a 12% increase. In the present increase in allocations, there is no space to introduce efforts towards prevention and rehabilitation within the child protection continuum.
The largest development scheme for children implemented through the Anganwadis has seen a 7% increase over last year which is Rs. 15245.19 crores (RE 2017-18) to 16334.88 crores (BE 2018-19). Anganwadi Centers are yet to gain universal coverage.
Considering the requirement of increased focus on pre-school education and care services for children below 6 years, this increase is insufficient in delivering services to our 165 million children in this age group.
The allocation for National Crèche Scheme dipped from 200 crores (BE 2017-18) to 65 crores (RE 2017-18). In Union Budget 2018-19, the allocations for the Scheme are Rs. 128.39 crores. Given that the Scheme was able to cover only close to a third of children below six in need of care services thus far, this allocation would be unable to expand its coverage to include all such children in need of care services.
The National Nutrition Strategy was released by the NITI Aayog last year based on which the implementation of the National Nutrition Mission will receive a boost from Rs. 550 crore (RE) to Rs. 2928.7 crores (BE).