Union Budget 2021: Increase Funds for Children, Urge Experts

New Delhi. January 28, 2021: While India has been making progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the existing inequalities among vulnerable populations – with children being affected the most. Children, who comprise 40 per cent of India’s population, have been severely affected in terms of their education, health and protection. Children have been pushed further into poverty as parents have lost income sources[1], and are faced with reduced access to health, nutrition, education and protection services.

Health & Nutrition:

In the 2021 Budget, there is an urgent need to increase public funding on health to 2.5% GDP and invest proportionately in Public Health and Primary Healthcare. To facilitate achieving universalization of health services there needs to be a target of reducing households facing catastrophic health expenditure by 25%, by 2025[2].

As children are susceptible to infections with high risks of mortality and morbidity, especially with COVID-19, and to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure for vulnerable families, there is a need to enhance ‘Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram’ entitlements for children up to 2 years from 1 year. There also needs to be a benchmark nutrition spending to minimum ₹38,571 crores[3] to fully finance core Direct Nutrition Interventions under ICDS and NHM. To ensure maximum coverage and effective budget planning, findings[4] suggest determination of local state-wise unit cost.

It is strongly recommended to expedite and prioritize expansion of Pneumococcal Vaccine (PCV) for children in full national immunization schedule and inclusion in all states. Also, the country’s health infrastructure, more so in the wake of pandemic, revealed a need to enhance resources for strengthening oxygen infrastructure. With the introduction of improved oxygen sources and regular capacity building[5], India could combat childhood pneumonia.

The Union Budget needs to see an increase in WASH[6] allocation under Swachh Bharat Mission (rural and urban) at schools, AWCs and health centres and maintain budget provision to AMRUT, NULM[7] & Smart Cities Mission for children under-five.

Education:

  1. Increase public funding on education to 6% GDP as mandated by NEP 2020 with a clear financial plan.
  2. Include COVID-19 sub-plan to ensure safe return of children with dedicated allocations on WASH, additional classrooms and staffing in both schools and AWCs.
  3. Enhance Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SMSA) allocations to ensure learning continuity and equitable digital access for 247 million children[8] affected by COVID-19.
  4. Increase SMSA allocation for teacher capacity-building and training to include psychosocial care and other needs of the crisis as only 2% SMSA allocation is for teachers’ education.[9]
  5. Increase ECCE share to more than 1.4% total government expenditure as stated in NEP as States are currently struggling with severe revenue shortfall.
  6. Separate budget line item for curriculum development and building capacities of ECCE providers (as per ECCE Policy).

Child Protection:

  1. Increase public funding for Child Protection Services to 1.5% GDP. To strengthen and capacitate existing mechanisms, set up a dedicated division in NIPCCD[10] on training with focus on psychological support and a systemic Competency-Based Training.
  2. Increase allocation for Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS). Enhanced allocation is needed under Sponsorships with renewed District Needs Analysis to prepare District Child Protection Plan. The meagre allocation of INR 2160 per child per month should be increased to improve quality in Child Care Institutions.
  3. Increase allocations to adapt and strengthen Childline and women helpline for increased domestic violence incidents in COVID-19 context[11]. With provision of safety measures (PPE Kits) and provision for Integrated Command Control Centre (ICCC).
  4. Budgetary provision for setting up designated Fast Track Special Court (FTSC) in each district for POCSO cases to INR 767.26 crore from current share of INR 474 crore to enable provisioning of 1023 FTSC courts required in 389 districts for disposal of 166,882 rape and POSCO cases across India.
  5. Enhance budget for setting up Anti Human Trafficking Unit and Women Helpdesks to INR 150 crore from INR 100 crore for coverage across 764 police districts in India.
  6. Enhance budget on National Child Labour Project (NCLP) to streamline SOP on CALPRA and PENCIL portal to prevent and rehabilitate child labour.
  7. Allocate resources for nationwide operationalization of SOP for Care and Protection of Street Children, by NCPCR and Save the Children[12] and increase allocation to Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) to include homeless and street children.[13]

Poverty & Inclusion:

  1. Create fiscal space towards investing 1% GDP towards child-focused social protection measures & benefits specifically :
    1. Integrated Nutrition Social Protection Package[14] with convergence of Nutrition Sensitive Schemes for MNCHN[15] and Nutrition Sensitive Social Protection Schemes like MNREGA, PDS and MDM.
    2. Inclusion of Child Cash Grant Scheme with priority to ULTRA poor.
    3. Second Living Child to be included in Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojna Scheme (PMMVY) and increase cash incentive from INR 5000 to INR 6000 per mother.
    4. National provisioning of Conditional Cash Transfer programmes to promote girls education by replicating states programmes.[16]
  2. Strengthen livelihood and food security by :
    1. Design an Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme with unemployment allowances to benefit marginalized communities including migrants.
    2. Strengthen MGNREGA with increase in minimum person days from 100 to 150 days.
    3. Increase Cash Benefits under National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) by 100%.
    4. Universalize Public Distribution System for vulnerable population with effective implementation.

The SDGs will not be achieved in India by doing more of the same, or adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. A child-focused Budget 2021 will pave the way for the overall well-being of children and the nation at large.

While India is yet to achieve any of its targeted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it has demonstrated steady progress towards achieving some of them. Reports suggest that India has reached the current global average of under-5 mortality (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). Other areas with significant progress include universal enrolment in primary education as literacy rate among 7-14 years children has gone up from 64% (Census 1991) to 88% (Census 2011). We, however, still have a very long way to go when it comes to reaching the most marginalised.

LOOKING BACK

In the last few years the health spending has failed to rise to 2.5% GDP as is desirable for middle-income group countries like India. Our education budget at 2.18% of the total union budget (2020-21) is a huge challenge to implement the newly released National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. Low public funding has left child protection mechanisms weak and cases highly under-reported and high pendency of cases on crime against children.


NEED FOR AN INCLUSIVE BUDGET

Inequality has been rising sharply for the last three decades and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation. These widening gaps and rising inequalities affect women and children the most and unless addressed immediately through increased funding, this will lead to bigger gaps in opportunities for children.

A child who has a less than fair start, is far less likely to reach her or his full potential as an adult. A healthy start, with adequate nutrition, care, protection and learning opportunities is essential for children.  Particular attention needs to be paid to reaching the last mile: those regions, castes, classes, communities and genders who are typically left behind. Without a targeted approach to ensuring the rights of every last child, ensuring India’s aspirations of growth, prosperity and development are likely to remain fraught with rising inequalities and, thus, not realised. Despite children constituting nearly 40% of India’s population, we are not investing adequately for children, especially those coming from the most marginalized groups.


WAY FORWARD

Important as it is to ensure adequate levels of financial resources for children, investing in the areas, or critical drivers of progress, is also crucial. Child Protection services have remained woefully underfunded and this needs to be raised to at least 1.5% GDP (from the current 0.9%). The bulk of these resources should go towards strengthening prevention mechanisms (strengthen village-level child protection committees, trainings, tools and campaigns in their area), and strengthening the cadre of child protection professionals at all levels with market-level salary corrections (set up a dedicated division in NIPCCD on child protection training and supervision and take forward a systemic competency-based approach to recruitment).

In all of this, a focus on the most marginalized: girls, children in street situations, differently-abled children, those from the poorest families, communities and regions, and catering to their specific needs will help bridge the inequality gap over the years. It will help provide children from all backgrounds an equal start, a fair start, the right start. Achieving SDGs in India requires a carefully crafted, different-strokes-for-different folks approach. The needs of an 8-year-old child in Kashmir are quite different from an 8-year-old in Uttar Pradesh, something which is even more different in Kerala. What they need, and how we can get them access to basic and essential services will be different.

We will need to invest in these different approaches; gather data for these different groups and carefully monitor progress. The Government of India, Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation’s 2018 report on the status of Children in India highlights some of these differences. The Aspirational Districts identified by the NITI Aayog also help focus on the regions which need the most attention.

We hope that the 2021 Union Budget recognizes the aspirations of the 600 million children of India, the differences within, and sets us on the right track for the next few decades by investing in the right areas.

Resources

  1. Save the Children’s Rights of Vulnerable Families and Children of India under COVID-19: Implications for effective response and mitigation strategies and Covid-19 pandemic: Over 80% of Indian homes lost income in lockdown, Hindustan Times, Accessed on 09. 09.2020
  2. State of Commitment to Universal Health Coverage 2020
  3. https://www.ifpri.org/publication/financing-nutrition-india-cost-implications-nutrition-policy-landscape-2019-20
  4. Public expenditure review of nutrition in Jharkhand by CBGA and Save the Children and Financing Nutrition in India: Cost Implications of the Nutrition Policy Landscape 2019-20 by Accountability Initiative, IFPRI and Centre for Policy Research
  5. Save the Children’s Pneumonia in India: Mapping the Challenges & Calling for Action conducted in 5 high burden states (UP, MP, Rajasthan, Bihar & Jharkhand, 2019 & Assessment Study by MoHFW, UNDP and Norway India Partnership Initiative
  6. https://www.cbgaindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Consolidated-Policy-and-Practice-Learnings-2.pdf
  7. AMRUT: Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation; NULM: National Urban Livelihoods Mission
  8. UNICEF 2020 Press Release: Urgent action needed to safeguard futures of 600 million South Asian children threatened by COVID-19
  9. https://www.cbgaindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Decoding-the-Priorities-An-Analysis-of-Union-Budget-2020-21-2.pdf
  10. NIPCCD: National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development
  11. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/govt-helpline-receives-92000-calls-on-abuse-and-violence-in-11- days/articleshow/75044722.cms
  12. https://ncpcr.gov.in/showfile.php?lang=1&level=2&&sublinkid=2100&lid=2002
  13. NUPF, 2018
  14. Save the Children’s Income-Expenditure & Status of Social Protection Schemes Uptake in West Singhbhum Jharkhand
  15. MNCHN:  Maternal, Newborn, Child Health & Nutrition; MGNREGA Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act; PDS: Public Distribution System; MDM: Mid-Day Meal
  16. Save the Children’s Socio-cultural challenges to girls’ school-to-work transition in India: Insights from an exploratory study of adolescent girls in Rajasthan. State examples of Mukyamantri Kanya Utthan Yojana in Bihar and Kanyashree Prakalap in West Bengal

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