Despite India ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children in 1992 to work towards child rights, we still have a long way to go. India needs to use aggressive corrective measures to address malnutrition, infant mortality, low school enrollment and other issues. Identifying these issues with their complexities enables civil society, governments, and individual strategies to resolve them. With socially conscious corporations and citizens who donate to charity, child rights are today a cause for everyone.
1. Health issues
Diarrhoea and malnutrition are two of India’s biggest killers of children under the age of 5. Along with poor access to nutritious foods, both these issues are linked to poor hygiene, as infections trigger mineral depletion and loss of appetite. India finds prominent mention in the annual global tally of deaths of children under the age of 5. For every 1,000 live births, 42 die, and every 20 seconds a child dies from preventable causes like pneumonia, preterm and birth complications, newborn infections, diarrhoea and malaria. National Family Health Survey (NFHS) India 2006 estimates show that 61 million children under the age of 5 are stunted, and 53 million are underweight. Another 25 million have a low weight to height ratio. One-third of the world’s ‘wasted’ children live in India, and rampant in rural areas, among scheduled tribes.
2. Survival issues
India leads the global tally of child (ages 0 – 5) deaths – 1.2 million deaths were reported in 2015, a quarter of 5.9 million child deaths worldwide. Another finding reported that 1.83 million children die every year before their fifth birthday (of 26 million children born annually). Children from India’s poorest communities are at a higher risk of death before 5. There are sharp inequities in mortality rates across India – under 5 mortality rate in Kerala is much lower (14 deaths per 1000 live births) than Madhya Pradesh (92 per 1000). At 1.83 million, India has the highest child deaths in the world.
3. Lack of education
A UN report recently revealed that India is home to the world’s largest population of illiterate adults (287 million), and contributes 37% of the global total. While the latest data shows that literacy rose from 48% (1991) to 63% (2006), population growth cancelled out these gains, meaning no effective change in the number of illiterates. Primary education spending is a decider in literacy, as seen in Kerala, one of India’s most literate states of the country, where education spending per pupil was about $ 685. Educational disparities are noticed in richer and poorer states. However, girl child education requires not only investment but also social awareness that educated girls are a valuable asset. Today, India ranks 123 among 135 countries in female literacy.
4. Exploitation in the form of child labour
India has the world’s most number of people under ‘modern slavery’ – 14 million. This includes slave labour conditions like bonded labour, sex trafficking, child labour, domestic ‘help’ etc. Children today continue to be employed in hazardous occupations – over 12 million children (aged 5 – 14) work in construction, manufacturing of beedis, bangles and fireworks industry. A 2016 amendment to Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 hasn’t established a blanket ban, instead legalising a form of child labour by allowing children to work in family enterprises, creating scope for misuse.
5. Violence and abuse
In 2013, India was among the top 5 countries with the highest rate of child sexual abuse. A 2013 report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights revealed that sexual offences against children in India were at an “epidemic” level – citing, over 48,000 rape cases between 2001 to 2011, and a 337% increase in child rape cases from 2001 (2,113 cases) to 2011 (7,112 cases). Child sex abuse (CSA) occurs across geographies, economic levels, and even across relationships – strangers, friends, family members had all been perpetrators. In 2012, 9500 child and adolescent murders were reported, making India the third largest contributor to child homicide (WHO 2014, Global Health Estimates). One in 3 adolescent girls experiences violence (physical, sexual or emotional), from significant others.
The scope of child rights makes it clear that a comprehensively designed program needs to address these issues. While governments and civil society can work to give children access to their rights, the common public must also support an NGO, initiative or campaign to ensure government initiatives are followed through. Grassroots activism is a vital guiding light to educate both children and adults, and liberate children from a life of suffering. When you donate to charity, you not only avail great tax benefits but also yield a huge reward in the fight for child rights.
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