By Ashish Joshi
In 1989, UNICEF held its first ever convention on the rights of a child. The convention defined childhood as a separate phase of life than adulthood. The Convention recognized that children should have their own set of rights and must not be mere recipients of charity from their families and society. Further, the convention called on governments across the globe to provide assistance to families in raising children and to support children who have been separated from their families.
Facts and figures regarding the state of children in India are intimidating. One in every two is abused sexually, one in every three is malnourished, and one girl child in every five is married before 15. At 8.2 million, India has the largest number of child labourers the in the world, and an estimated 71 million children under the age of five with unregistered birth. As per a UN report titled “Motherhood in Childhood”, for every thousand adolescent girls, India records 76 cases of childbirth, standing second only behind Bangladesh in the world for adolescent childbirth.
What counts as child abuse?
Child abuse can be of many forms sexual, emotional, exploitation, or simply neglect. The more public and visible forms of child abuse are Malnourishment, child labour, prostitution, child marriage, lack of education and healthcare facilities, etc. As per UNICEF reports, India records the highest number of child marriages in the world. Above issues being more visible have had most of the focus in the context of actions and reforms. India since independence has spent a huge amount of money in child healthcare and despite the long way still to go formidable improvements are undeniable. India has already surpassed the World Health Assembly’s 2025 targets for India.
Since 2015 there has been a great fall in the number of malnourished kids and the number of breastfed infants has risen from 46% to 72%. Child labour, just like child health, is showing improvement. As per the census of 2011, India has about 8.2 million children (aged 5 to 14) working as labourers, but the positive to look at this is that this figure is a 65% drop from the 2001 census which reported 12.6 million children working as child labourers. Schemes like MANREGA, Mid-Day Meals, Beti Badhao Beti Padhao has incentivized people to let their children study rather than work.
Persistent problems in India
On one hand, while India is improving on parameters of child health, nutrition, and labour, child prostitution, on the other hand, remains an area of severe concern. Despite being illegal, India has a large number of brothels nationwide. Prostitution is estimated as a multibillion-dollar industry in India. Indian brothels employ in excess of 1 million kids across the country. Due to lack of awareness and proper care, many suffer from diseases like HIV and have been organ traded. Every year, thousands of young girls from remote parts of India, Nepal and Bangladesh are dragged into prostitution in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. Despite having strict laws against child trafficking and prostitution, there are numerous rackets operating in the country—the situation is worsening with every passing day.
Child education is another area of concern for the country. Only half of children aged six to fourteen attend schools; on an average, there are just three teachers per primary school. Only one-third of primary enrollments make it till grade eight as they are forced to leave education early due to financial and social pressures. There is a dire need for good teachers, good schools, and good infrastructure at the rural level. Despite such facts, the number of children attending schools is increasing and the census reports a rise in literacy rates as well. Although such reforms have been very slow to come, there are some positives to take away concerning India’s improving child education.
The challenge of domestic abuse
The biggest challenge that remains a concern in childcare is the problem of domestic abuse. In most cases—either due to the existing social practices or for the fear of society—these cases are hardly ever reported making the reforms very hard to come. As per a 2007 report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, 150 million girls and 73 million boys have been forced into sexual intercourses and violence by adults who are blood relatives. The same report says that almost 70% of the kids in the country are physically abused—88% of the time by their own parents.
Kids also have a looming pressure of performing well in schools and colleges and often get emotionally and physically abused if they fail to do so. Another form of emotional abuse which is very gender specific is girl child neglect. Especially in rural India, this form of emotional abuse is highly prevalent. Over 70% of girls report being less favoured by their family as compared to their brothers and almost 50% wish they had been boys.
Getting to the root of the problem
The root cause of all forms of child abuse is the mentality of the people, which needs immediate reform. Patriarchal ideas, the desire to control women sexuality, poor financial conditions, a lack of institutions, and outdated social norms are prominent among many causal factors. Many parents will decide to marry a female child early as they fear that after a certain age she might be exposed to sexual assaults and huge demands for dowry. Most children working as child labourers or in prostitution are forced into it due to poor financial condition of their family, family traditions, or sometimes simply due to an unfortunate encounter with a criminal racket. The government has implemented laws and drafted policies but most of them fail to have an impact on the ground level. The problem is huge and government alone will take too long a time to create a difference. Luckily a large number of NGOs are filling the gap, but there is still a huge need and scope for more to come.
A healthy and educated child is an insurance policy for the future. Childhood is probably the most crucial phase in an individual’s life. It is the time where one can play, feel safe, learn new and exciting things, and grow on mental, physical, and emotional grounds. It is in childhood that one’s psychological perception of the reality is formulated, childhood shapes an individual inside out into the adult they become. A nurturing childhood is the right of every child—and to avail them with it is the responsibility of every adult.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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