1989 was a historic year for the movement aimed at ensuring rights to every child in the age group of 0 to 18 years when world leaders came together and made a remarkable commitment to the world’s children by adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). 2019 is a year of celebration as this year 30 years of UNCRC will be completed which is an important milestone in the journey of this agreement. Apart from celebrations, which we are very much entitled to, this moment also serves as an important opportunity to take stock of the progress made by us in ensuring rights to the children of our country.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), one of the most widely ratified treaties in world, is a legally-binding international agreement that sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child, irrespective of their race, religion or abilities.UNCRC is based on the premise that basic fundamental rights belong to every child. It has 54 articles which set out children’s rights as well as how governments should work together to make them available to all children. Governments are required to take efforts to meet children’s basic needs and also help them in achieving their full potential.
India, a country with about one-fifth of the world’s children, ratified the UNCRC, in 1992. In this moment of celebration of 30 years of UNCRC India has a lot that it can be proud of and Convention has played an important role in moving towards realization of rights of children.The convention has inspired India to enact a number of progressive legislations and formulate policiesto address the pressing child rights issues.Some of the key legislations that have been enacted to protect rights of children include Right to protection of children against sexual offences 2012, Child Marriage Prohibition Act 2006 and The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009.
The Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act, 2005 was passed in 2005 to set up the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) which was set up in March 2007. The mandate of Commission is “to ensure that all Laws, Policies, Programmes, and Administrative Mechanisms are in consonance with the Child Rights perspective as enshrined in the Constitution of India and also in the UNCRC”.
India has also enacted a number ofprogrammes and schemes to actualize the mandate of UNCRC and promote rights of children. Some of these schemes includeIntegrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) for protection of children, SarvaShikshaAbhiyan, Kasturba Gandhi Swantantra/ BalikaVidyalaya, Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme for the children of working mothersand many others. Implementation of a plethora of schemes and programmes has contributed in improving outcomes for children.
India’s progress in combating under-5 deaths due to preventable causes has been historic and commendable as it has touched global average of 39 per 1000 live births, and is more likely to achieve the SDG target. Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) has also come down from 79 in 1992-93 (NFHS-1) – to 41 in 2015-16 (NFHS-4).
Huge strides have been made in bringing the children to school. Even more importantly more number of girls are attending schools like never before. Literacy rate among 7-14 years children has increased from 64 per cent (Census 1991) to 88 per cent (Census 2011). Though even today a large number of girls are getting married before turning 18 the proportion of women in the age group of 20-24 years who got married before the age of 18 has declined from 47.4 per cent in NFHS-3 (2005-06), to 26.8 per cent in NFHS-4 (2015-16).
Progress has been made on many fronts however areas of concern also exist. Undernutrition among children is one of them.Though progress has been made in reducing malnutrition, the rate of reduction, however, is not as desired. 38.4 percent children are still stunted, which is disconcerting. Commitment to address under nutrition is reflected in a number of measures taken by government.
Government enacted National Food Security Act, 2013 for provisioning of food grains to nearly three-fourth of the population in rural areas and half of the population in urban areas at affordable prices under the Targeted Public Distribution System. Supplementary nutrition is provided to pregnant women, lactating mothers and children below 6 years of age under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). Government has also made to efforts to bring in focus on the problem of malnutrition and synergize efforts towards tackling the same with recently launched PoshanAbhiyaan.
India has made huge strides in bringing children to schools but many of them are not having desired learning outcomes.Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed the importance of quality of education in one of his Mann Ki Baat address using following words: “So far, the government’s focus was on spreading education across the country. But the time has now come to shift the focus on quality education. Now, the government should emphasise more on learning rather than schooling,” Some efforts have been taken to improve the quality of education however significant improvement is yet to be seen.
Violence against children remains a major issue. There has been a rise in crime against children , with a total of 1,29,032 cases of crimes against children reported in the country during 2017 as compared to 1,06,958 cases during 2016, showing an increase of 20% during 2017 over 2016. More than 25% cases were reported under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 including child rape.
UNCRC stresses the importance of participation of children in decision making however this is an area where more work is required.
There is a need to ensure voice of children in decision-making to promote active citizenship among them and also to improve system’s accountability. Children should be made aware of the processes through which they can participate in the decision-making processes. They also have the right to organize themselves into groups that can represent them at various forums. Greta Thunberg, the crusader for climate change is a prime example of how children can raise issues affecting not only them but also adults to strive for a better world.
Strong and effective implementation of legislations and schemes should be a priority to actualize the mandate of UNCRC. There is a need to regularly monitor the implementation of programmes so as to achieve desired results.Generating timely data and conducting impact evaluations of these schemes are critical for improving implementation. Collaborative efforts from all key actors, including the State, Civil Society, children, communities and private sector are required to give shape to the vision of UNCRC and move into its fourth decade.