A third of India’s population of around 102 crore is under the age of 18, and 16 crore under the age of six. But just 4.84% of the amount the Union government will spend in 2007-08 is targeted at this segment.
The number just about sums up the country’s attitude to children; everyone is interested in their well-being, but that often enough, that doesn’t translate into action. Despite a recent law banning people from employing children under the age of 14, child labour is rampant in the country. Young beggars make a living at traffic lights, ostensibly selling newspaper and other small things.
Last year, the government planned to spend 4.9% of its expenditure on children, but eventually used only 4.67%. Numbers such as these, related to the Centre’s focus on children, are tracked by Haq: Centre for Child Rights, a Delhi-based non-governmental organization. Since 2001-02, Haq has been evaluating the Budget from the point of view of what it does for children. “On 26 October 2005, the government promised to start child budgeting. This was also part of the National Plan of Action for Children, 2005. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of it still. Children are yet to become a priority,” says Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, executive secretary, Haq.
Budget 2007-08 allocates Rs32,958 crore to developmental programmes targeting children, but a major portion of this amount, 72%, is dedicated to education. Another 16.6% goes to child development, and 10% to health. Child protection, a term encompassing several initiatives targeting the just-born, gets 0.48%, down from 0.55% last year.
“In a scenario where children suffer from malnutrition and an increasing disease burden, and 80% of health costs are met privately, the fall in the allocation is of deep concern,” says Haq’s report on the Budget. India registers the most number of neonatal (first 28 days of birth) deaths in the world, and over 90% of pre-schoolers and adolescent girls suffer from anaemia.
Even where spends on education are involved, says the report, the Centre’s share of contribution to the Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan, an education-for-all-children initiative, will come down to 50% in 2007-08, from the current 75%. The states are expected to find the rest, but the report says they have been unable to even meet their current share of 25%.
The report also notes that the Budget makes no allocation for the National Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Bill passed in 2006. “Isn’t one Nithari enough to realise the need for investing adequately on children’s protection?” asks the report, referring to a recent incident in Nithari, near New Delhi, where several children were abused and then murdered.