New Delhi: With India having the largest number of children in the 0-14 age group in the world, you would expect budgetary allocations to be more than 1.18% of GDP that was allocated as part of Social Sector spending in 2007-08, up by 0.18% from 2003-04.
In a pre-budget deliberation organized by Unicef and Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, Ramya Subramanian, social policy officer, Unicef drew attention to the low priority that continues to be accorded to child protection as opposed to health, education and development.
In 2007-08 the sectoral composition of the Child Budget saw barely 1% of the funds finding their way towards child protection schemes. Bulk of the budgetary allocation was taken up by education (72% of Rs27, 421 crore).
It is expected that while Union Budget 2008 will see a quantum jump in social sector spending and specifically education, child protection will continue to remain largely unacknowledged. This component of child budgeting that covers the wide spectrum of trafficking, child labour, street children, orphan and vulnerable children, institutional care and adoption and care of homelessness is not likely to be adequately addressed.
Child Budget comprises total outlays for child-specific schemes in the Union Budget and these are categorized under the four broad heads of Early Childhood Care and Development; Child Health; Child Education and Protection of Children in Difficult Circumstances.
According to Ramya, “a child budget initiative must provide higher allocations for children in public budgets to enable governments to reach national development targets and MDGs. It should also improve utilization of allocated provisions through fiscal decentralization, participation, transparency and accountability.”
* Step up investments for children both at the centre and state levels and increase expenditure/s per child: In 2006-07 Rs121 crore was allocated for children which worked out to 0.30 paise per child. With costs of salaries, rentals and other incidentals being built into this allocation, what eventually got to the children concerned can well be estimated
* Set realistic benchmarks: Birth registration amount that is allocated in some states is not even enough to cover the basic cost of the registration form and this is for a document that is critical, for it provides an identity to the child’s very existence
* Arrest inefficiencies in the system that prevent monies reaching relevant people in time
* Ensure better utilization of funds that could look at cost effectiveness; improve absorption capacity; eliminate bottlenecks and simplify procedures: For example funds allocated for constructing a school gets taken in March, the money reaches the concerned district by July, estimates and plans for spending it are sent to the central authorities in October and by the time the final sanctions arrive in December, its too late to complete construction within that financial year
* Monitor expenditures by setting up tracking and undertaking social audits: Devise foolproof systems that can put pressure on states to utilize their budgets better; solution is not to give to Andhra what Bihar has been unable to use
* Monitor outcomes and carry out impact assessements: For example household toilets have increased by almost 50% in rural homes but not all of them are being utilized - to identify gaps and find ways of plugging them
* Encourage knowledge based advocacy and disseminate best practices
* Budget to be more about outcomes and not outlays alone
While the President’s recent speech to both Houses of Parliament made a mention of tripling allocations for specific schemes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the Midday Meal and National Rural Health Mission as part of the government’s focus on inclusive growth in the 11th Five Year Plan, it waits to be seen if there would be a sizeably enhanced allocation for child specific programmes, especially in the areas of child health and protection.