By Gautam Adusumalli, Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, Delhi University.

Did you know that children constitute over a third of India’s 1.2 billion population, and that India has the largest population of children in the world? In fact, over 17% of the world’s children live in India, which means that every sixth child in the world today refers to India as ‘home’. According to the 2011 Census, India holds a population of about 430 million children between the age group of 0-18, of which about 160 million are below the age of six years, and about 270 million are between six to eighteen years of age. Not just this, an estimated 26 million children are born in India each year, according to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. Keeping in mind all of these facts and figures, one might be led to believe that India would probably have a very strong and a bullet-proof framework when it comes to children and their rights. Sadly, that is not the case.

Children in India are a neglected segment, whose rights continue to be ignored. Some are abandoned, some never get educated, some are left on the streets to fend for themselves, while some suffer from violence each and every day. The bottom line is that children are continuously being deprived of the social benefits that they deserve. It is a sad state of affairs.

When it comes to children and their rights in our country, some facts and figures are just appalling. Let us take a look at some of them:

  • Today, India is home to the largest number of child laborers in the world.
  • India has the world’s largest number of sexually abused children, with a child below 16 raped every 155th minute, a child below 10 every 13th hour, and at least one in every 10 children sexually abused at any point in time.
  • 40% of child malnutrition in the developing world is in India.
  • 65% of girls in India are married by the age of 18 and become mothers soon after.
  • 35% of the developing world’s low-birth-weight babies are born in India.
  • One out of 16 children die before they attain the age of 1, and one out of 11 die before they are 5 years old.
  • Out of every 100 children, 19 continue to be out of school.
  • Of every 100 children who enroll, 70 drop out by the time they reach the secondary level.
  • Of every 100 children who drop out of school, 66 are girls.

It is undeniable, really, that such statistics are a massive cry for help. The economy of our country has improved significantly over the years, but by the looks of things, it seems that the benefits of such growth are limited to only a certain section of our population. The Indian child continues to be deprived.

There are several constitutional provisions to protect the rights of a child in our country. Here are some:

  • Article 15 of the Constitution of India affirms the right of the State to make special provisions for women and children.
  • Article 21A of the Indian Constitutions states that “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine”.
  • Article 24 says that “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment”.
  • Article 39(e) of the Directive Principles of State Policy provides that children of tender age should not be abused and that they should not be forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuited to their age or strength.
  • Article 39 (f) requires children to be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity, and that childhood and youth be protected against exploitation and moral and material abandonment.
  • Article 45 of the Directive Principles of State Policy provides for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14.

Considering the prevailing situation of child rights in our country, it seems that India has consistently failed to comply with its own constitutional provisions for protecting children. Such a situation is alarming.

Our country has not only failed to meet its own provisions, but also certain international obligations. In 1992, India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children. According to the UNCRC, all children are born with fundamental rights. They have:

  • The right to survival – to life, health, nutrition, name, and nationality.
  • The right to development – to education, care, leisure, recreation and cultural activities.
  • The right to protection – from exploitation, abuse, and neglect.
  • The right to participation – to expression, information, thought, and religion.

These are all rights that a child is born with, rights that are natural, rights that can never be taken away from them. The reality of these rights in our country, however, is far from ideal.

This is the ground reality of child rights in India and it is very clear that there is still a long way for us to go in this sphere. There needs to be a complete re-examination of the existing framework for children as a whole. The gaps within the existing laws, policies, and programmes meant for children have to be identified and addressed, and the anomalies have to be dealt with. All the statistics prove that children are accorded low priority in national policy and government decisions, which goes on to show that the issue of child rights in our country is in dire need of more focus and attention, both from the government and the people. The overall mentality has to change. It needs to be understood that for significant change to happen, each and every member of the society has to contribute. Most importantly, there needs to be recognition of the fact that children are also individuals with rights.