By Sarah Farooqui
A complete policy framework for any vulnerable population group should encompass three things- welfare, protection and rights. India’s policy mechanism for children has over the years evolved (tangentially maybe) to include each of these three aspects and provide a robust system for children, atleast on paper.
Despite this, 75 million children have neither featured in numbers on child labour nor do they attend school. Almost 5.19 lakh children are labourers and Delhi alone has approximately 51,000 vulnerable street children.
The 2013-14 budget allocated 4.64 percent of the entire union budget, for children, which is a climbdown from last year’s 4.78 percent. Breaking it down further, Child Health received 0.16 percent of the total allocation, Child development received 1.10 percent, Education received 3.34 percent and Child protection 0.04 percent.
In 2011, the crimes against children reported a 24 percent increase from the previous year. Strangely enough, the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS)- the most comprehensive policy on child protection in India – faced a reduction in its allocations by 100 crores this year – one-fourths of its budget.
When child protection mechanisms fail its main stake holders, the children, everyone is appalled and the state promises immediate reforms. The recent protests against the rape of a five year old demonstrated this. The government promises reforms, citizens revolt and expect miracles and policy makers flaunt the pages of existing robust policies. The reality though is that unlike other vulnerable population groups, policies for children are poorly funded and implemented. They come under the most neglected area of public policy and there are four reasons for this.
One, often regarded as the domain for women, bleeding hearts or those who could not find better work in the administrative services, child welfare, protection and rights come under ‘soft’ public policy. Outside of emotions, policies for children are usually unappealing.
Two, a general public apathy towards children in India (unless there is a dramatic, media hyped case of rape, abuse, torture, kidnap or death) ensures that there is a lack of constant and necessary dialogue regarding the deficits in implementation and need to consistently beef up allocation and spending.
Three, direct spending on this population group does not help much with vote bank politics or in easily appeasing the adult voter masses.
Four, the need to survive till the next elections and beyond, ensures a lack of foresight (and ignorance towards this population) on the part of those who govern the country. (According to the 2011 census report, 33 percent of Indians are children. Spending on this segment of population should be viewed as an investment in the country’s future).
There is a dire need to bring child polices into the spotlight. Unless aggressive work is done on improving the child policy mechanisms outside the definitions on paper — in realistic budget allocation and spending along with efficient implementation — there will be no improvement. We will continue to have strong laws and policies, but meagre spending and most unfortunately, thousands of vulnerable children.