On Children’s Day, Here’s How We’ve Helped Them (& How We Haven’t)
Children’s Day is a good time to celebrate the progress we have made in advancing the welfare of children in India.
Children’s Day is a good time to celebrate the progress we have made in advancing the welfare of children in India.(Photo: iStock)

On Children’s Day, Here’s How We’ve Helped Them (& How We Haven’t)

Children’s Day is a good time to celebrate the progress we have made in advancing the welfare of children in India. The Infant Mortality Rate has declined from 57 in 2005-06 to 41 in 2015-16. Fewer children under 5 years are now stunted (below normal height-for-age) and more children are going to school.

However, here are some sobering facts too. A 2014 study showed that more than half of children in the fifth grade were unable to reach a basic second-grade text. Progressive child sex ratios in states like Kerala, Meghalaya and Chhattisgarh, have been offset to some extent by adverse ratios in other states.

The absolute numbers of stunted and underweight children remain high. And we continue to grapple with the scourge of child labour, trafficking and commercial exploitation.

For one of the youngest countries in the world – where children constitute over a third of the population – there is a lot more we can do to give our children the chance for a successful future.

Putting Data Systems in Place

We require better data on the impact of various child welfare schemes. What will be even more helpful is the disaggregation of this data by geography, gender, religion and household wealth. We can then concentrate our interventions on those who need them the most.

Cash transfer schemes, for instance, can target families that are not sending their children to school because of difficulty in meeting school-related costs.

Data is also an essential prerequisite to implementing programmes for children who are living in especially vulnerable circumstances like on the streets or in conflict areas.

Emphasis on Early Childhood Care and Education

The Early Childhood Care and Education policy notified by the government last year needs to be implemented in letter and spirit. The policy aims to ensure holistic development of children below the age of six. Considering that Anganwadi Centres cater to most of the needs of children in their early years, they should include crèche facilities as well.

An added benefit of this would be that women will be freed up from domestic care work, allowing them to participate in the workforce. More comprehensive education should be imparted in our schools as well, including skills to enhance future employability and mandatory sports sessions for at least 3 days a week.

Education and skilling of girls needs special attention. Conditional cash transfer schemes can be a very useful instrument; however, modifications in their design may be required so that parents invest the money for education instead of spending it on dowry.

Focusing on Health Promotion and Early Detection

The emphasis of schemes like Integrated Child Development Services needs to be expanded beyond provision of supplementary food to interventions that attack the root causes of undernutrition directly.

These include improved access to water and sanitation, better infant and child feeding practices as well as stronger linkages with the health system. Nutrition counselling should be provided to the entire family, instead of focusing solely on the mother.

For children and adolescents of school-going age, imparting information on good health and hygiene habits as well as screening for lifestyle disorders must be prioritised.

The practice of yoga should also be made a regular activity in all schools through certified instructors. Ironically, 14 November – which is celebrated as Children’s Day in India – is World Diabetes Day, and diabetes is fast catching up with children in the country. This is an alarming development and one that must be aggressively stopped in its tracks.

Curbing All Forms of Malpractice Involving Children

Clinics and practitioners should be subjected to strict regulation for preventing the use of sex selective diagnostic tests.

The various laws pertaining to child marriage need to be harmonised to ensure that they do not contradict each other. Setting up community-led child protection committees can be another important measure for ensuring that malpractices get reported.

Further, campaigns for catalysing behaviour change should attempt to create role models out of families that support the education of their girls and resist the evils of child marriage in the face of societal pressure. 

Celebrating positive deviance can help to create a counter culture. Beti Bachao Beti Padhao is a significant step in this direction but it needs to be sustained.

Another rampant malpractice is child labour. Children are allowed to work in certain categories of family enterprises. The list of potentially hazardous occupations should be revisited to ensure that children are protected. While there is no magic bullet solution to this problem, cash transfers can help to address at least some of the financial pressures forcing children into work.

In Panama, a study found that cash incentives produced a 16% reduction in child labour among indigenous communities. This reduction was accompanied by an 8% rise in elementary school enrolment in the same areas.

Finally, on child trafficking, it must be ensured that the nodal unit established by the Ministry of Home Affairs as well as the Anti-Human Trafficking Units in states are functional and well-staffed.

On 15 August 2017, the Prime Minister articulated his vision for a “New India” by 2022 and invited India’s youth to participate in the country’s development. Today’s children will be tomorrow’s youth.

We owe them the basic necessities of health, nutrition and education as well as a life free from fear and violence. Only then will be they be able to succeed in helping build the India of our dreams.

(Disclaimer: The views and analysis expressed in the article are personally those of the author. They do not reflect the views of NITI Aayog. NITI Aayog does not guarantee the accuracy of data included in the publication nor does it accept any responsibility for the consequences of its use.)

(Urvashi Prasad is a Public Policy Specialist with NITI Aayog. She can be reached at @urvashi01. The views expressed in the article are the author’s alone. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)