Children in jeopardy
In 2017, children in our country hogged the headlines for largely regrettable reasons and a few right decisions
As yet another year comes to a close and we are preparing resolutions for the New Year, it is also time to look back and see how the past year has gone by. So, how was 2017 for our children? This year, children were the newsmakers—for all the wrong reasons and a few right ones too.
Declining safe havens
The year was marked by two horrific incidents reminding us that the schools in our country are not adequately equipped to ensure child safety—both in terms of the infrastructural preparedness, and mitigating threats arising from people. As seven-year-old Pradhyumn succumbed to injuries in a school in Gurugram, another four-year-old student of a South Kolkata school is still struggling to cope with her inflicted wounds. Amid this, the entire country is debating upon the scope of responsibility a school should owe its students. The lapses in the protection of children inside school premises point to the fact that child protection needs much more than legislation and numerous guidelines. It needs a commitment towards zero tolerance against violence on children. It also reopens the debate around the justice system trying children as adults.
Crime against children
If that was not enough, a three-year-old girl was subject to brutal torture in another instance of sexual abuse in Purulia, West Bengal. While she died from sepsis due to the numerous injuries caused by the insertion of needles into her frail body, the doctors treating her claimed that they had never witnessed such violence on a three-year-old in their entire career. It is not surprising then, that India saw a sharp rise (11 per cent) in crime against children between 2015 and 2016, as freshly released NCRB data suggests. If one goes by absolute numbers, it is an increase of 12,786 reported cases of crimes against children, across the country, in one year (from 94,172 in 2015 to 106,958 in 2016).
SC: Sex with minor wife is rape
On a brighter note, the year did witness some positive developments in the legislative and judicial levels. In a landmark judgment, the Apex Court read down Exception (2) to Section 375, to hold that sexual intercourse by an adult male with his minor wife, with or without her consent, would amount to rape. Prior to this judgement, intercourse between a man and his wife, if the wife was above 15 years of age, did not constitute rape. The judgement also recommended that the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006 should be amended to make all child marriages void ab initio (to be treated as invalid from the outset) in line with the Karnataka PCMA Amendment, 2016.
Loopholes in Child Labour legislation
After the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, a notification was released this year by the Ministry of Labour and Employment to amend the Schedule (Part A and Part B) of the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. Part A mentions hazardous occupation and processes in which adolescents are prohibited to work and children are prohibited to help. Part B contains lists of occupation and processes where children (less than 14 years) are prohibited to help in family or family enterprises while allowing adolescents to work. There still remains an absence of clarity on how the monitoring and execution would take place on the ground.
Cracking down trafficking
May 2017 saw the country's first-ever initiative to expand and redefine trafficking after the Ministry of Women and Child Development came up with the draft of the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2016. The Bill promises to treat survivors of trafficking as victims in need of assistance and make rehabilitation a right for the rescued.
Death of infants
In Uttar Pradesh, 70 infants died in a tertiary care hospital in Gorakhpur (July and August) and 49 in Farrukhabad. 90 children died in two months in Rajasthan's Banswara District Hospital and 55 in Maharashtra's Nasik Civil Hospital, in August alone. Debates aside, infant mortality is tragic, but not unusual in India. High child death figures are routine for the monsoon months when infections peak and already overburdened hospitals are unable to cope. A failing healthcare system on the ground coupled with inadequate investment has been perennially de-prioritising the issue of child mortality across the country.
The National Family Health Survey 4 (2015-16) released this year, corroborates this. In India, only 9.6 per cent of children between six and 23 months receive an adequate diet; 38 per cent of children up to five years of age are stunted; 21 per cent of our children suffer from wasting; 36 per cent of children under-five years of age are underweight and 58 per cent of children between six months and five years are anaemic. The total immunisation coverage in the country still stands at 62 per cent. We cannot let our children die of preventable diseases.
Governments heightens ICDS investment
On the other hand, in a welcome move, the allocations for the beneficiaries of Anganwadi Services and Scheme for Adolescent Girls (out of school 11-14 years) under the Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) improved this year, in terms of Supplementary Nutrition (SN). For children between six and 72 months, the allocation increased from Rs six to Rs eight; for pregnant and lactating mothers, from Rs seven to Rs 9.50; for severely malnourished children, from Rs nine to Rs 12 and for adolescent girls (out of school), the budget per child increased from Rs five to Rs 9.50. The actual impact is, however, yet to be seen on the ground. Moreover, the overall budget for children is stagnant and in 2017-18, only 3.32 per cent of the Union Budget was parked for our children.
Dilution of 'No Detention Policy'
The RTE Second Amendment Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in August 2017, proposing that the 'No Detention Policy' under Section 16 of the RTE Act be amended to re-introduce year-end examinations for students at Classes V and VIII. If a child fails in the examination, s/he can re-appear. On failing the re-examination, the relevant central or state government may decide to allow the school to detain the child. Expulsion from school, however, is not allowed until completion of elementary education. It is imperative that the No Detention Policy is seen in sync with the provision on Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE), which has not been implemented in its true spirit thus far, leading to a poor assessment and teaching-learning processes.
Adults voice the child
Influential entertainment icons like Shoojit Sircar, Shaan and Amol Gupte came out to voice their concern about the way children are treated in the film and entertainment industry. In an industry which is largely 'adult-dominated', it was brought to focus that children's right to education, development, play and leisure should never be compromised. What also came under the scanner, was the fact that both parents, as well as production houses, need to be very careful that their guardianship does not treat children as commodities to be profited from.
"We owe it to our children to give them a dignified and hopeful future…" said Giorgio Napolitano. And we in India owe it to our 472 million
Looking back at 2017,
we see some positive changes and at the same time, feel distressed on witnessing the loss of life, morbidity and vulnerability which children face in our country. Here's hoping in the New Year that we are more cognizant of our children's right to a happy, healthy and creative life, safe from exploitation of any kind.
(This commentary was first issued by CRY - Child Rights and You. The author is CEO, CRY. The views expressed are strictly personal.)