India is home to almost 19% of the world’s children. More than one third of the country’s population, around 440 million, is below 18 years. The future and strength of the nation lies in a healthy, protected, educated and well-developed child population that will grow up to be productive citizens of the country. India must invest resources in children proportionate to their huge numbers. An exercise on child budgeting carried out by the Ministry of Women and Child Development revealed that total expenditure on children in 2005-2006 in health, education, development and protection together amounted to merely 3.86%, rising to 4.91% in 2006-07. There is an urgent case for increasing expenditure on child protection, so that the rights of the children of India are protected. The neglect of child protection issues not only violates the rights of the children but also increases their vulnerability to abuse, neglect and exploitation. The Constitution of India recognizes the vulnerable position of children and their right to protection. It guarantees in Article15, special attention to children through necessary and special laws and policies that safeguard their rights. There are a spate of other laws and policies in the International as well as national levels.
However, these policies and legislations for children have on the whole suffered from weak implementation, owing to scant attention to issues of child protection, resulting in scarce resources, minimal infrastructure, and inadequate services to address child protection problems. ‘Child Protection’ is about protecting children from or against any perceived or real danger or risk to their life, their personhood and childhood. It is about reducing their vulnerability to any kind of harm and protecting them in harmful situations. It is about ensuring that no child falls out of the social security and safety net and those who do, receive necessary care, protection and support so as to bring them back into the safety net. While protection is a right of every child, some children are more vulnerable than others and need special attention. The Government recognizes these children as ‘children in difficult circumstances’, characterized by their specific social, economic and geo-political situations. In addition to providing a safe environment for these children, it is imperative to ensure that all other children also remain protected. Child protection is integrally linked to every other right of the child but it’s seldom met.
Failure to ensure children’s right to protection adversely affects all other rights of the child. Thus, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) also cannot be achieved unless child protection is an integral part of programming strategies and plans. Failure to protect children from such issues as violence in schools, child labor, harmful traditional practices, child marriage, child abuse, the absence of parental care and commercial sexual exploitation among others, means failure in fulfilling both the Constitutional and international commitments towards children.
Violations of the child’s right to protection, in addition to being human rights violations, are massive, under-recognized and under-reported obstacles to child survival and development. Failure to protect children has serious consequences for the physical, mental, emotional, social development of the child, with consequences in loss in productivity and the loss in human capital for the nation.
Today Human Development is considered to be a very important aspect of a country’s progress. A nation’s efforts towards enhancing women and children’s health, nutrition and education and also its commitment to resolve social issues like child labour, illiteracy and poverty is relevant in measuring its development. India’s concern for children is evident in the constitutional provisions, policies, programmes and legislation. But, for a nation with 160 million children of less than 6 years of age, the task of reaching out to them is indeed mammoth. The New Economic Policy (NEP) under the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) has created further hurdles by way of scaling down of child development projects, changing patterns of financial resources and changing composition of child development programmes. Further, the NEP has also brought about changes in the labour market in terms of increase of contract labour and feminisation of labour. With nearly a 100 million women in labour force, spread across various sectors of occupations and in diverse regions, it calls for innovation, flexibility and variations in the programmes for women and children. Thus child care programmes have to serve the intersecting needs of women and children. For the child it supplements the care provided by family through its health nutrition, stimulation and pre-school activities. Very significantly it would play a role in releasing young girls from child care tasks. For the working mother it provides the support to carry on her tasks of a homemaker, mother and earner. It is important to note that a large number of women though not gainfully employed, have to be away from home and child to collect water, fuel and fodder in order to survive and therefore it is essential to consider these women also for child care services. Further, it has been seen that in absence of child care services women’s participation in literacy programme, income generation programmes and health care activities are reduced thereby decreasing their own chance for development and also their participation in the development process.