For a species to exist and ensure its sustenance, it is important that they reproduce offspring. For the continuity of homo sapiens, it is important that they also produce children. The notion around a child and its treatment evolved as society progressed. Earlier during the time of Greeks and Romans, only able-bodied children were accepted as citizens. During the period of industrial revolution, children were treated as a source of cheap labour to be exploited in every possible manner. But as society progressed, children were given their due especially after several child rights movements that gave them an identity and legal rights as an individual in themselves rather than one who had to rely on others for fulfillment of their needs.
In India, a child is treated as a gift of god. Presently, India is home to the most number of children, as per the 2011 Census, about 13.59% i.e. 16.45 crore of its population is in the age group of 0-6 years while 30.76% of the population is in the age group of 0-14 years. This is considered as an advantage that India has over many developed countries like Japan, and its huge reserve of potential human resources is thought to help India become a global leader in the future.
However, considering the fact that India is also a home to the most number of malnourished children, millions of children in the age group of 5-14 years are a victim of child labour. Child marriage is still prevalent and there are still areas where the education and health facilities are yet to make their presence felt, all these factors present a bleak future for India’s potential human resource.
The primary concern related to a child in India is related to the definition of child itself. The term has been defined differently in different acts. Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC); Juvenile Justice Act 2000; Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (HMGA) 1956; Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 and so on define ‘child’ as a person who is under 18 years of age, while the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1986 defines a ‘child’ as someone who is under the age of 16 years and a minor who is between age group of 16-18 years. In the Constitution of India and Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, a ‘child’ is defined as a person below 14 years of age. The recently amended Juvenile Justice Act 2015 states that children (16-18 years) may be treated as adults if they commit heinous crimes such as rape, acid attack, murder, etc.
All these leads to issue in data collection and analysis which further undermines the decision making process and subsequently leads to inefficiency in the implementation of the provisions mentioned in legislature.
It is important to note that India ranks at 130 among 189 countries in terms of Human Development Index (HDI). Discrimination on the basis of caste, gender, religion being ingrained in the society and the India and Bharat divide being widening day by day, have a clear effect on the access to opportunity and rights of children. This section gives a general overview of the situational analysis across various sectors and the government’s response to the same.
As the proverb goes, “health is wealth,” it is extremely important for a child to have access to good quality health and nutritional facilities even before it is born to ensure its proper physical and mental development. So, the concept of health and nutrition for a child starts with maternal health. Healthcare services are vital for both mother and child. In India, even though the health indicators related to maternal health, such as the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), access to antenatal care, institutional delivery etc. have improved, still a lot needs to be done.
According to the NFHS report 2015-16, the condition of the health of a child in India is pathetic, even after being a growing economy, 50 children in the under five years age group die per 1000 live births. The condition further deteriorates when it is considered on a caste wise basis i.e. for the SC and ST community, it is 56 and 57 respectively; when it is viewed on religion basis it is Muslim community whose plight is the worst.
The Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) rate is 34 deaths per 1000 live births. The mortality and morbidity of children is much higher in rural areas than in urban areas. This difference is mostly due to the absence of good healthcare services in rural areas. The rate decreases as the income of the household increases, even though it seems apparent but it presents a genuine case of increasing government investment in healthcare.
According to the NFHS report 2015-16, the status of child nutrition in India too presents a picture similar to child health. It is worse for children under 5 years of age – 38% of them are stunted which is a sign of chronic undernutrition, 21% show signs of acute malnutrition while 36%of the children are underweight. Apart from this , there are 2% who are overweight.
Again, the frequency of malnutrition also decreases as one moves from a low income group to a high income group. Consumption of micronutrients like Vitamin A and iron-rich foods are also found to be low. In the age group of 6-23 months, only 44% of children consume Vitamin A and only 18% consume iron-rich food on a regular basis. It is due to this reason that around 59% of children had some degree of anemia.
Health is a state subject, but in the larger public interest, the central government frames guidelines related to various health issues which are then implemented by the state government. The Right to Life (Article 21) is a fundamental right under the Constitution. Also, in the Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP), articles like Article 38, 39, 47, etc. guide the state to work towards the betterment of health of each and every citizen. Considering the vulnerability of a child and pregnant and lactating women, the government launched a major scheme known as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme on October 2, 1975, for early childhood care and development .The aim of the scheme is to provide overall development of children up to 6 years and to fulfill the nutritional requirements of pregnant women and lactating mothers.
Moreover, to improve the availability and access to quality healthcare services, the government launched the National Health Mission in 2005. The rural version of this was the National Rural Health Mission and for urban areas it was the National Urban Health Mission. Further, in 2013, the Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCH+A) approach was launched essentially to address the major causes of mortality among women and children and also to rectify the delays in accessing and utilizing health care and services. Apart from this, schemes like the Mid Day Meal and recent schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) which provides financial aid of ₹6000 to pregnant and lactating mothers, Kishori Shakti Yojana under ICDS to break the intergenerational life-cycle of nutritional and gender disadvantage, etc.
A separate ministry has been allocated the responsibility of formulating and guiding the policies related to children i.e. Ministry of Women and Child Development. Recently, the government has launched a mission known as the National Nutrition Mission (NNM) to raise nutrition levels in the country with an aim to reduce stunting, undernutrition and anaemia among young children and adolescent girls and also to reduce birth weight by at least 2% per annum. Respective state governments have also taken initiatives towards the betterment of the health of children.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
– Nelson Mandela
Education is considered as one of the most important factors for the development of an individual as well as a country. Education helps a child to socialise and it opens up doors for a better future. For a child, family is considered as the first source of knowledge. after family come institutions such as school, college, etc. In India, the adult literacy rate, as per the 2011 Census is 73% only. For women the picture is more gloomy, it is only 64.6%.
For children in the age group of 7-18 years, the literacy rate is 88.3% and it is heartening to see that the gender gap is only 2.9% points and it is continuously falling. The highest recorded literacy rate among the age group 7-19 years is in Kerala at 97.9%. The lowest is in Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar, which is below 80%.
According to the ASER report 2018, the proportion of children (6-14 years) not enrolled in school has fallen below 3% for the first time. However, it is important to note that the proportion of children dropping out from secondary education is 17.06% in general while for the Scheduled Caste community it is 19.63%, for the ST community it stands much higher (24.40%) and for the Muslim community it is 24.12%. These stats represent the disinterest of some specific sections of the society towards secondary or higher education.
The above data only represents education in quantitative terms, however the quality of education being imparted by the educational institutions is still very poor. As per the ASER report 2018, only 27.2% of all students who were in Standard III can read Standard II level, while this was 50.3% for those in Standard V and 73% in Standard VIII which is the last compulsory year of schooling.
The number of institutions imparting education at the elementary level in 2014-15 was 12,72,212 where the rate of increase is comparatively higher at primary and upper primary level. The student teacher ratio which is an important indicator related to the quality of education is better in case of elementary education while the situation deteriorates as one moves to secondary and senior secondary which might be one of the reasons for increasing dropouts in case of secondary and senior secondary schools. The school enrollment figures, which is the number of students enrolled in schools, indicates a positive trend over the years in India.
Education in India comes under the concurrent list and thus the state and centre both have a role in imparting education to its citizens. Under ICDS schemes, there is provision for pre-school under which non-formal education is provided for children in the age group of 3-6 years. After 6 years, under the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (a watershed moment in the history of education in India) a child in the age group of 6-14 years has the right under Article 21-A of the Constitution to receive education free of cost till Standard VIII in government and government aided schools except special schools like Kendriya Vidyalaya, Navodaya, etc.
Even in private schools, 25% seats are reserved for children coming from weaker sections like socially disadvantaged groups, low income families, etc. It is the duty of the state to ensure that a school is available within walking distance of a child. There are special provisions in this act which cater to the needs of children with disability and disadvantaged groups. To make education more inclusive and fulfill the demands of the minorities, the Constitution under Article 29 and 30 prescribes education in mother tongue and provides managerial power of educational institutions in the hands of minorities.
Apart from this, the mid-day meal schemes, which are the largest feeding programs for the school students till elementary level, has aptly dealt with class hunger and has increased the enrolment of students in elementary schools. Moreover, the National Curriculum Framework 2005 marks a transition away from rote learning by making classrooms more interactive and examinations more flexible. Recently, the government had issued a notification to reduce the burden of school bags. So now, till Standard II, school bags are no longer required.
“Child labor perpetuates poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, and other social problems.”
It is very disheartening when we see a child at a tender age doing labour on the streets to earn money – poverty and related hunger being the primary culprit of it. As defined by the ILO, child labour is work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and mental development.
However, this data does not include nearly 85% of child labourers in India who are engaged in the unorganised sector. There are five states which are India’s biggest employers of child labour. These are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra; Uttar Pradesh being the largest employer of child labour.
According to the ILO’s World Report on Child Labour 2015, 80% of the working children live in Indian villages and most of them are engaged in agriculture. 62.8% of the total child labour workforce who are in the age group of 14-17 years are employed in hazardous work, especially boys as they are the ones who are employed more than girls. A huge number of children work in the embroidery and textile industries and recently their number has increased in hazardous computer and electronics recycling units.
Major concerns are related to the inappropriate use of children in carrying out illegal activities such as drug peddling, liquor vending, etc. Nowadays, child labour is being exploited in the garb of increasing informalisation of labour through contracting and subcontracting work by multinational companies (MNCs).
The writers of our Constitution were well aware of the prevailing practice of child labour in India and they wanted this evil to be gradually removed from the society. Therefore, Article 24 of the Indian Constitution prohibits the employment of children under 14 years of age in factories, mines or other hazardous vocations. Further, under provision of this article, The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 was enacted to prohibit children from engagement in certain hazardous conditions. It contains a list of occupations such as bidi making, manufacturing of match boxes, explosives and fireworks, etc. where employment of children is prohibited.
Recently, the law was further amended in 2016 to increase its scope. It now prohibits the employment of a child in the age group of 14-18 years in hazardous jobs. However, it allows a child upto 14 years of age to work in family enterprises. Further, it allows a child in the age group of 14-18 years to work non-hazardous jobs. India has also ratified 6 major conventions of ILO out of 8 major conventions, the most important for children being the The Worst Form of Child Labour Convention, 1999 and Minimum Age Convention, 1973.
Moreover, the National Child Labour Policy (NCLP) was initiated to rehabilitate children who are rescued from hazardous occupations and furthermore it provides education, training, healthcare services, etc. Apart from this, schemes like MGNREGA, mid-day meal, Right to Education gave and continue to give children an incentive to study which has led to reduction in child labour between 2004-05 and 2009-10.
“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.”
– Dave Pelzer
The term child abuse may have distinctive implications in various social milieu and financial circumstances. Child abuse has numerous structures: physical, emotional, sexual, disregard, and abuse. Child abuse leaves a deep scar on the life of a child and has a negative impact on their upbringing and further integration with the society.
According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development report released in 2007, around 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 years were subjected to forced sexual intercourse and other forms of sexual violence. Children between the ages of 5-12 years were at a higher risk of abuse and exploitation. It was also reported that around 69% of children were physically abused.
In majority of the cases, parents were responsible for physical abuse while around 50% of the children reported were being emotionally abused, which included humiliation and incessant comparison. Again, 83% parents were responsible for emotional abuse. In case of school going students, every two out of three students reported faced corporal punishment. So, in totality, a child in India is vulnerable to different types of abuse and in most of the cases it is a known person of the child who is responsible for it.
Apart from laws and schemes, that is applicable to all, the state has been proactive in dealing matters concerning child abuse, especially sexual and physical abuse. To deter individuals from sexually abusing children, the government in 2012 passed the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation (POSCO) Act 2012 which provides protection to all children below 18 years of age from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography.
Then, there is The Juvenile Justice (Care And Protection Of Children) Act 2015 which aims to provide care and protection to the children in conflict with law, and also deals with procedures and decisions or orders relating to their rehabilitation, adoption, re-integration, and restoration in the mainstream society. Moreover, this law prescribes treatment of children between 16-18 years of age as an adult in case if a heinous crime is committed by them. A major decision recently taken by government was to pass an ordinance which prescribed capital punishment to those who rape children below 12 years of age.
Further, to stop abuse at home, especially that of a girl child, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 makes it a punishable offence. Additionally, to stop physical abuse at school, corporal punishment has been banned by the government. Recently an effort is being taken by government under Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) which aims for building a protective and creating a conducive environment for children in difficult circumstances and other vulnerable children with the help of government and civil society partnership.
Child marriage is an evil which still prevalent mostly in rural areas, even after continued effort by government, this evil looms large over the future of children in India. According to a UNICEF report as recent as 2016, it was found that the percentage of child marriage is as large as 27%, especially for girls in the age group of 15-18 years.
It not only affects the health of the child but it reiterates on the entire upcoming generation. The major reason for the continuance of child marriage is concept of purity, need to control female sexuality, low education, gender inequality and poverty.
Initiatives taken by the government varies from making strict rules and regulation to changing the mindset of the people. The nodal authority involved in dealing with this is the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The government had already enacted the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 to abolish child marriage. Further, it has abolished dowry under the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 while on a policy level efforts are being made to increase the enrollment of a child in educational institutions.
Children are among the most vulnerable sections of the society that need to be protected starting from an early age. Even though with the progress in economic growth of India there has been an improvement in the condition of children, a large number of children residing in rural area and belonging to minorities are still at a disadvantage. The government has taken a lot of initiatives by making laws and schemes but the implementation part is still lagging. The interference of government in terms of politicization of textbook needs to be checked if we want a child to think freely and rationally.
Moreover, there is also new pattern emerging in terms of child abuse especially with the advent of social media. The government needs to formulate a good policy to deal with such kind of emerging issues. For a country to have sustainable development, it is important to ensure that the future of the country is taken care of properly.