Adding Voice & Vision to Child Rights in India

Child Rights in India are often perceived as the least important thing in the society.  As a child cannot stand up for himself  and is not aware of what is right from what is wrong their childhood is exploited by the adults in the society in several ways. From child abuse to child labour any issue pertaining to Child Rights is again defined by adults and are viewed from a different point of view. Every child has a right to childhood. But how many children actually know that. As a civilized society and the keepers are we adults doing enough to ensure that the childhood is protected? As Urban India grows in terms of economy and affluence, the human values have been constantly falling, especially when it comes to Child Rights.  The apathy of the situation has gone from bad to worse as India is seen as a growing economy by the rest of the world, as Indian children continue to be malnourished, school drop-outs, abused physically, emotionally and sexually and are exposed to several forms of torture which we adults rarely see as abuse. The most shocking result of such actions leave children mutely to endure the atrocities of the society and accept this kind of treatment as a part of life and then grow up to be like the same abusive adults they were exposed to as children. This vicious cycle continues unless Child Rights are protected and implemented with every child in the world.

This paper outlines Child Rights as defined by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), how the civilized society perceives them, challenges faced by Child Rights Protection Force (CRPF) at rural and urban areas and a few suggestions on how society can change and become empathically open to Child Rights. A few case studies are outlined in the paper which highlights the complexities involved in protecting children who are employed in urban and rural areas. This paper also highlights child rights issues based on the economic and social divide between urban and rural areas including migrants with some suggestions on protecting the children from forced adulthood at a young age. The challenges and solutions presented in this paper can be adapted and inculcated in the teaching methodologies to sensitize the society and take Child Rights seriously.


While every legal entity in the world is focusing on Human Rights and Non-Governmental Organisations talk passionately about how the world is becoming utterly inhuman by violating Human Rights, media dishing out a steady dose of headlines and photographs that are utterly gory and anything suitable for reading at your breakfast table, social media posting videos that go viral in the matter of minutes directly proportional to the disturbing content within it, Human Rights seem to be everywhere.  But then, one might start wondering, if everyone is aware of Human Rights, what’s the big fuss about? The answer is simple – Human Values are missing even when Human Rights are well defined.

According to United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) we have 30 well defined Human Rights and of which only one are dedicated specifically to mother and children and No. 25. Most of time, we tend to overlook the facts that children are often victimized and never get to know their rights as they are simply not aware of them. The plight of children residing in India that is home for 19% [Extrapolating data from Population Reference Bureau Report 2011 to Indian Population numbers] of the world’s children is even worse. Sex determination during pregnancy is an unlawful practice in India owing to the alarming rate at which female foeticide is growing, yet is being done in several places bringing down the gender ratio. Right from the womb the survival of a child is a biggest challenge. India’s infant mortality rate stands at a disturbing 5.1% and even if the child survives past age 5 after being severely malnourished and undernourished every breath it takes, is a struggle for survival. Right from abandonment to hunger, child labour to sexual abuse, denial of basic necessities like clean air, water, sanitation and food, life for a child in India is a biggest ordeal.

Why Child Rights?

A quick look at year 2011 Indian census [Source: A – 5 UNION PRIMARY CENSUS ABSTRACT – 2011] (see pie chart below) will give us an idea that 38.99% of Indian population are below 18 years of age of which 52.4% account to boys and 47.6% to girls. So, effectively the NCPCR defined Child Rights apply to at least 39% of our population, which is evident that this major segment of Indian population is dependent on the majority 60% which is the adult population segment, who will be largely implementing the Child Rights. This also means the Human Rights Commission, which essentially employs adults, have a bigger responsibility in protecting the Child Rights in the interest of protecting Human Rights in general.


Source: Indian Census 2011

Child Rights as defined by NCPCR

The following are the Child Rights as defined by Child Rights by National Commission for Protection for Child Rights, New Delhi. Some of them seem pretty simple, yet it will be very surprising to know that many of these rights are denied for Indian children.  The much hue and cry about implementing the fourth right “Right to Education” seems very tough, owing to the social and economic barriers, lack of result-oriented initiatives and the closed mindset of the society where our children live today. As per ILO statistics 19% of the world child population lives in India. And a quick look at the below list of Child Rights will clarify what the majority of Indian children are missing, which constitutes to the whole essence of their childhood, how we can address the issues and protect the Child Rights.

1.     Right to Safe Environment:

With depleting levels of natural resources day by day, the environmental changes occurring in the world leading to a difficult living thus by raising costs of housing and basic care for human survival, make it even worse for children.  According to the year 2011 population census a majority of 72.8% of Indian children live in rural areas and the rest 27.2% live in urban areas. Children are extremely vulnerable to and are the first victims of any natural or man-made disasters in India. While the rehabilitation measures offered to them are not officially defined, as largely such measures are aimed at surviving adults in the regions. Even if one doesn’t look at disasters per se, the very existence of a normal day-to-day life of a child is exposed to extremely hazardous environment. In rural areas, the lack of basic amenities like clean drinking water and sanitation itself poses several health risks in infants and children. Apart from this children are exposed to extremely poisonous substances in agriculture sector, which constitutes agricultural labourers, which is 55% of the Indian adult work force including main and marginal work as per Union Primary Census Abstract 2011. This leaves the children of this 55% workforce exposed to harmful pesticides, as they play an integral role in helping their parents in this sector or work as child labourers. When we look at urban areas, once again children are vulnerable to the raising pollution levels which are by-products of rapid urbanization and industrialization. Apart from air and water pollution, deforestation, industrial pollution the Ambient Air quality statistics itself show that their survival to grow as a healthy adult is minimized at every step.

A quick look at the report on Hyderabad city by Environment Protection Training Research Institute (EPTRI) , USAID and Environmental Protection Agency, which is entirely based on transport and industrial level pollution on ambient air quality without accounting for air pollutants by road dust, open burning, residential and commercial establishments, projected a death rate of 6 times more for year 2021 than for exposure in  2011 [Clean Air Portal 4]. The presentation of this report ended with a rather chilling message which is depicted in the Figure 1.

Apart from air quality the overall Environmental Performance Index ranks India at a dismal 155th position, among 178 nations in a study conducted by Yale University in 2013. The most troubling part which we should consider is that India ranked 125th in year 2012 and slipped 30 ranks below in 2013.


Figure 1. Source: Clean Air Portal

The following table shows the details of Indian ranking in Environmental Performance Index which explains the kind of environment we are living in and exposing the younger generation to.

Name of the Indicator Score Rank amongst 178 nations
Health Impacts 50.04 127
Air Quality 23.24 174
Water & Sanitation 26.28 124
Water Resources 10.49 87
Agriculture 58.4 117
Forests 35.07 57
Fisheries 22.64 67
Biodiversity & Habitat 39.18 125
Climate & Energy 35.24 104
Overall Score 31.23 155

Table 1. Source: Environmental Performance Index Report for India 2014, Yale University

To show the seriousness of the issue Air, Water & Sanitation and Agriculture which sums up the 3 basic requirements for survival of any living being is highlighted in red. Children are the worst affected as their physical growth is stunted when exposed a hazardous environment with lower levels of immunity and eventually to leading to irreparable damage to their bodies and minds most of the times to an untimely death. This proves that we have a greater responsibility in front of us which is rather impending in offering a cleaner environment to our future generation by adapting to energy efficient lifestyle and working conditions. The onus is on us adults who should be thinking ahead about the living conditions of the future citizens of India.

Right to Food:

According to National Institute of Nutrition Hyderabad, recommended a daily dietary requirement including macro-nutrients and minerals for Indian children aged 1-9 yrs is 1,367 Kcal and 2,456 Kcal for children aged between 10-17 yrs. Table 2 indicates the recommended balanced dietary suggestions for children as given in the national Institute of Nutrition in year 2013.

Recommended diet for Children 1-18 yrs
Food Groups 1-3 yrs 4-6 yrs 7-9 yrs 10-12 yrs 13-15 yrs 16-18 yrs
Girls Boys Girls Boys Girls Boys
Cereals & Millets in gms 60 120 180 240 300 330 420 330 450
Pulses in gms 30 30 60 60 60 60 75 75 90
Milk & Milk products in ml 500 500 500 500 500 500 500 500 500
Roots & Tubers in gms 50 100 100 100 100 100 150 150 200
Green Leafy vegetables in gms 50 50 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
Other vegetables in gms 50 100 100 200 200 200 200 200 200
Fruits in gms 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
Sugar in gms 15 20 20 30 30 25 20 25 30

Table 2. Source: Dietary Guidelines Manual for Indians by National Inst. of Nutrition 2nd Edition- 2010

According to Ministry of Women & Child Development [IEC Campaign to Address Under-nutrition], malnourishment is clearly defined in a colourful format with film star Aamir Khan as brand ambassador explaining the short-term and long-term adverse effects of malnutrition as:

  • Short-term adverse effects include recurring illness, weakness, delayed physical and mental development, irritability, poor appetite, low weight for age, etc.
  • Long-term adverse effects are stunting or short height for age, poor learning ability, poor performance at school and poor general health. All of which reflect in poor working capacity, resulting in low income. Stunting in girls can have effects on child bearing, resulting in low birth weight babies.

The same campaign also lists out some facts pertaining to malnutrition in Indian children which are given as follows:

  • Every fifth child in the world lives in India (19% of the world child population)
  • 22% babies are born with low birth weight
  • 50 out of 1000 Live births do not complete their first year of life
  • 5% children (0-5) years are underweight
  • 79% of children (6-35 months) have iron deficiency
  • Half of adolescent girls in the age group 15-19 years are undernourished
  • Approximately 2.75 crores of adolescent girls are undernourished
  • 56% of adolescent girls suffer from iron deficiency anaemia

The campaign also outlines the nutritional requirement for children, girls and women, but fails to mention how these nutritional requirements are met. However, Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) [Integrated Child Developmental Services Scheme & Ministry of Women & Child Welfare – letter No. F.No. 4-2/2008-CD.II dated 07.11.2008 & Revised vide letter No. 5-9/2005-ND-Tech Vol. II dated 24.2.2009.] program another initiative by the same ministry addressed the same by allocating Rs. 6 per day for severely malnourished children in age group of 6 months to 5 yrs for a daily nutritional requirement of 800 Kcal which surpasses the levels of disconnect between the problem and the policy maker, about the current food prices in India. That sheer absurdity of rolling out a campaign in association with UNICEF and a remedial measure to save children from malnourishment is just an eye wash evidently owing to the sky-rocketing food prices in India in 2009.

Similar list of food requirements for an individual is published by Indian Council on 1st April 2013, which accounts to 675 gms of cereals, 60 gms of pulses, 210 gms of vegetables, 50 gms of sugar and 250 ml of milk to keep the body fit. A senior reporter Sri S. Balan priced the above food requirement and arrived at a figure of Rs. 71.50 per person per day [Starvation Wages in Karnataka, excerpted from Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector under the Chairmanship of Arjun Sen Gupta]. If we factor in the costs as per his report and account to the child’s food cost we will be looking at a figure of Rs.40.9 per child within age group of 1-6 yrs, Rs. 67.41 per child in 7-15 yrs age and Rs.80.79 per child in 16-18 yrs age per day as shown in Table 3. It is a known fact that the required nutrition for growing children and adolescents is more than the adults so we see an increase of Rs. 9.29 from average adult food cost to child as per the same report.

Average Food cost per child per day in Rupees
Age group 1-6 yrs 7-15 yrs 16-18 yrs
Cereals 5.37 17.55 23.28
Pulses 4.5 9.45 12.38
Milk 15 15 15
Vegetables, Roots, Tubers & Fruits 14.28 23.33 27.38
Sugar 1.75 2.08 2.75
Total in Rupees 40.9 67.41 80.79

Table 3.

According to the year 2011 census Indian children below 18 years of age and accounting to the National Institute of Nutrition’s dietary requirements, India needs about 55.6 Million tonnes per of cereals and pulses for children costing Rs.3.78 lakh crores per year.  If we look at India’s Food grains production for year 2012-13, we have about 255 Million tonnes of production according to Ministry of Agriculture, which means we are producing atleast 4 plus times more than what our our children consume in a year.

According to Economic Survey for year 2012-13, the food grains production for year 2011-12 is at 259.32 million tonnes. The number sounds promising and positive enough to feed the hungry in India especially children. But most of these food grains that are produced in India are not available for Indians including our children. An obscene amount of food grains and processed foods accounting to 296 lakh metric tonnes are being exported from India in year 2011-12, which is an increase of 39% from previous year according to the Agricultural and Processed Food Export Development Authority (APEDA) [not accounting to alcoholic beverages and miscellaneous preparations.] amounting to Rs. 1.15 lakh crores. This means we are taking away the food meant for our children, processing it and exporting it to other countries, the APEDA website proudly claims that India is the world’s 2nd largest producer of cereals adding to the insult when our own children are going hungry. Apart from exporting,  a large amount of food grains rot due to inadequate storage facilities in our granaries. That calls for a bigger argument in itself.

India ranks 63rd in the Global Hunger Index and the score is 21.3 which is rated as “alarming” according to International Food Policy & Research Institute’s report in 2013.  Even if we leave adults out of equation, which account to 17.5% as undernourished population in the nation, Children below 5 years of age account to 40.2% and an Infant mortality rate for children under the age of 5yrs is at 6.1% which is equally disturbing.

Just by ensuring proper food distribution to people can address the national hunger problem. Even the much publicized Food Security Bill that claims to cover 67% of the nation’s population accounting to 1.35% of the GDP[Financial Express article on Food Security Bill] still doesn’t address the problem the requirement exceeds supply.

Unless India take some stringent measures in offering better prices to agriculture produce, reduce corporate farming practices and ensure a transparent public distribution system in sync with the nutritional requirements if the population based on the age in place and plug the holes in the distribution system, hunger for India will prevail.

Right to Healthcare:

As mentioned above an Infant Mortality Rate[Annual Report on Healthcare in India in 2011 by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, 2011. & National Health Report 2010] for children under the age of 5yrs is at 6.1% speaks for itself about the level of accessible child care and ante-natal care available in India. This is occurring even when our government has implemented a welfare program exclusively for Mothers and Infants in the name of Janani-Shishu Suraksha Karyakramam.  A look at our own statistics from the Annual Health Survey, shows Child Mortality Rate at 13.3% in year 2010 at a per capita public expenditure for healthcare is at Rs.1,201. Even though Indian children account to 40% of the national population the proper health care seem to be a distant dream with the lack of specialized care in the fields of paediatrics and ante-natal care.

The Indian healthcare dates back to the Vedic system of healthcare (Ayurveda) in 5000 BC when live was simpler and more holistic in everyway. However the current scenario for healthcare in India has changed. India produces some of the finest doctors for serving the world. But when it comes to home front the same doctors are accessible only through expensive private medical care, which is not affordable for an average Indian family with children. The doctors in the field of Paediatrics too, are limited to treating patients in urban areas. Rural India suffers from the inadequate facilities or limited trained staff who is often over-burdened with work.

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India, produced an Annual Report on Healthcare in India in 2011 which proudly states that National Rural Health Mission NHRM has emerged as a major financing and health sector reform strategy to strengthen the State Health Systems by placing 1 Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker for every 1000 population. Though placing an ASHA worker is highlighted as a major breakthrough in villages by Ministry of Health, the ASHA workers aim at maintaining Mother and Child Tracking System through hospitals, ensuring the deliveries happen in Primary Health Care (PHC) centres, and limit their responsibility to food  and medicines distribution for Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). The same report also states that more than 8 lakh women have been trained and deployed as ASHAs at the village level. More than 6.9 lakh ASHAs are provided with drug kits. The lack of supply in drug kits to over 1 lakh ASHA workers speaks very loudly for the Infant Mortality Rate we are witnessing in our nation.

Ministry of Women and Child Development’s prescribedRate and Supplementary Nutritional Norms per beneficiary per day
Sl.No. Category Rates Calories (K Cal) Protein (gms)
1 Children (6-72 months) Rs.4.00 500 12-15
2 Severely malnourished children (6-72 months) Rs.6.00 800 20-25
3 Pregnant women and Nursing mothers Rs.5.00 600 18-20

Table 4 Source: Source: Bulletin on Rural Health Statistics in India 2009. Infrastructure Division Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India

The above table shows the prescribed Supplementary Nutritional Norms by Ministry of Women and Child Development in year 2008-09. This is distributed through Aanganwadi Centres (AWCs). The rates shows the disconnect between the real prices of food commodities and utopian assumptions by the ministry. Even this paltry sum of money that is allotted towards nutritional supplement reaches only half of the children in the prescribed age group. According to the ministry’s website as per project 7066 there are a total of 13.4 lakhs Aanganwadi Centres servicing 841 lakh children in the age group of 0-6 yrs which essentially covers 51% of the total child population in India in that age group,  leaving out primary health care access to the rest.

The prime focus of an ASHA worker is to reduce infant mortality rate and ensure pre and ante-natal care for mother and child. According to Sri Hari Hara Reddy[Inputs by Sri Hari Hara Reddy, District Co-ordinator for Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh, MV Foundation], District Co-ordinator for MV Foundation in Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh stresses the point that the responsibility of ASHA worker ends once the child attains an age of 5. After this age the child does not get any special health care facilities in rural areas unless he/she goes to school. Hari Hara Reddy stresses on the fact that each government school has to strictly follow a fortnightly health check up for the children and maintain a record of the same with school authorities as well as at PHCs who conduct the health check up under the scheme if Jawahar Arogya Raksha Pathakam. Working at the grassroots levels, he says this is not happening as per schedule. In his experience he witnessed only 3 health checks by PHCs in schools in the entire last academic year leaving children and parents virtually helpless in diagnosing any ailments that could have been found during this exercise.  Even the Health Ministry report states that Full Immunization occurs in 61% of children and they aim to increase further by 10% for the coming year shows the lack of interest in public health care system in India by policy makers.

According to National Health Policy 2002 outlined in Annual Report on Healthcare there is one Primary Health Care centre (PHC) for every 20,000-30,000 population as published on Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. The difference of 10,000 in the lower and upper range of population is self-explanatory in highlighting the seriousness with which our government is looking at health care. Based on the data provided by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) in the National Health Report 2010[National Health Profile (6-Health Infrastructure) Report by Ventral Bureau of Health Intelligence] there are 23,391 Primary Health Care centres in India which when extrapolated to population census gives 1 PHC for every 51,766 citizens in India. Even if we do not account for urban areas as the health care here is managed by private players, we will be left with 1 PHC for 35,644 individuals of which 39% are children where there is no specialized care is available.

The situation is better in urban areas comparatively as the healthcare is largely privatized with multi-specialty care. With the impending environmental deterioration, lack of nutritious food, water and sanitation and lack of medical care children are the prime victims to epidemics as their immunity levels get lower and lower with each year.

Less than 1% of the GDP is allocated to public health care in India by the government in year 2011 which is set to raise to 2-3% which the policy makers seems as acceptable increase – in their own words.  As per National Health Accounts (NHA2009)[Annual Report on Healthcare in India in 2011 by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, 2011. & National Health Report 2010], the “Out of the Pocket” (OOP)expenditure by patients in India in 2004-05 was more than two- thirds of total health spending by the government which shows dismal state of health care is in India. This gets worse in rural India where 68% expenses account to OOP and 32% in urban areas for availing health services. Most of the OOP expenses are incurred in the private medical facility centres or on the diagnostic services which are not available in the government run PHCs. Added to the insult the government is planning to privatise health sector under PPP model in 12th Five Year Plan according to a report by working group on National Rural Health Mission NHRM making health care even more expensive and practically inaccessible.

Even if we do not go into details of the ailments, as per UNICEF data India has an estimated 220,000 children infected by HIV/AIDS[UNICEF data]. It is estimated that 55,000 to 60,000 children are born every year to mothers who are HIV positive14. There is no data available that is related to the treatments and medical aid for HIV/AID affected children on National Aids Control Program website.

A closer look from national level to state level health care initiative by the Government of Andhra Pradesh in the name of Rajiv Arogyasri Pathakam, too has little to do with child healthcare. The total budget of Rs. 1,200 crores and claimed to have covered 85% (56,819,070) of the state population in 2009 in offering quality healthcare services[Andhra Pradesh Arogyasri Annual Report 2010-11]. In Year 2010-11 the Arogyasri Healthcare Trust empanelled 290 hospitals including government and private together to provide quality health care services to the poor. However only 17 of the empanelled hospitals are exclusive to Maternity and Child care or both. This shows the accessibility of quality health care for children and infants in the state. The report does not state any details on the children’s ailments and treatments offered under the scheme. Even in India Governance website under Best Practices section, the full case study of Rajiv Aarogyasri Health Insurance Scheme does not give any numbers pertaining to details and number of children treated or their ailments. But is it hard to miss the comment posted underneath the report by Dr. Suryakantha Acharya who is a Cancer Specialist from Vijayawada who questions the lack of transparency in the whole scheme as he never got a reply from the government for his RTI query on cancer cases treated. That sums up the effectiveness and authenticity of the data available and also the health benefits of Arogyasri scheme extended to the public.

As per National Food and Health Survey NFHS-3, 48% of children under age five years are stunted (too short for their age) which indicates that, half of the country’s children are chronically malnourished. Acute malnutrition, causes irreparable damage to body results in a child being too thin for his or her height, under-perform and prone to more illnesses than his peers. 19.8% of children under 5 years in the country are victims of acute malnourishment. 43% of children under age five years are underweight for their age.

According to Social Statistical Division’s report on children in 2012, about 76.4% of children (6-59 months) in the lowest wealth index are suffering from anaemia whereas 56.2% children of the highest wealth index are suffering from anaemia. Irrespective of economic standing, anaemia seems to affect more than half of the children below 5 years of age. Health care for children in India does not have a clue about how to address this pressing concern.

Right to Education (RTE):

This is probably much talked about and much appreciated bill when passed in the Indian parliament. In India where literary rate as per 2011 census is states that 73% of Indian population are literates, however the way it is calculated has a gaping flaw as the methodology states that  population from age 7 years onwards including the children getting the primary level education are recorded as literates. It is another argument whether a child educated under RTE as a mere eye wash, can actually read basic alphabet or not. Added to this armed with RTE bill majority of Indians thought they can breathe easy thinking that at least we got this one right. The Ministry of Human Resources and Development of India explains RTE as ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which represents the consequential legislation envisaged under Article 21-A, means that every child has a right to full time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality in a formal school which satisfies certain essential norms and standards.’  This applies to children in age group of 6 yrs to 14 years.

But before going into details of the primary and upper primary students, one has to look at the children below 6 years or the pre-schoolers, who are covered by Aanganwadi Centres (AWC) through ICDS mission by Ministry of Women & Child Development. According to data published on the website there are a total on 13.4 lakh AWCs in India and 349 lakh children/pre-schoolers (0-6 yrs) are covered which looks quite promising as there is one AWC for every 26 pre-schoolers. But as per 2011 census the total number of children aged between 4-6 yrs is 7,54,18,513, that means we are leaving out 54% of the pre-schoolers without any education at Aanganwadi Centres, until they complete age 6 before getting access to full time elementary education. This indicates that the AWC resources are available to only 46% of the child population for pre-primary education and the rest 54% are denied the same due to lack of resources and other factors.

For children (6-14 yrs) totalling 23.36 crores according to 2011 census and who rightfully come under the purview of RTE, there are 14 lakh primary and pre-primary level in both government and private sector as mentioned in the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) report [District Information System for Education 2010-11] for 2012 which looks promising on paper as there is one school for 166 children. However the number of schools shown includes government and private both combined in the report without giving any clarity on the segregation.

Another survey by NCERT plugs in the holes left by SSA, so, we are using that as reference. As per All India School Education Survey conducted by NCERT there are a total 1,125,588 (government & private) schools offering primary and upper-primary level education to children leaving a promising number of 1 school for every 207 children with an average of 4 teachers per school, irrespective of economic backgrounds and is quite reassuring even if we look at the school to children ratio of 1: 175 at rural level and 1: 427 in urban areas which seems quite good.


Pie chart shows the total primary and upper-primary schools in India by type of management. Data & Info source: All India school education survey 2009, NCERT

Despite this, the biggest challenge for implementing RTE is to motivate parents to send children to school. In rural sector there is a decrease of 62% in enrolments in primary level and 55% at upper primary level over a period of 7 years (2002 to 2009). For girls in the age group of 6-14 the enrolment is only at 47% of the total girl child population. The total dropout rate for children (boys & girls) from primary level to upper primary level is 15.5% and dropout rate for girls is 17%. The above numbers are crunched based on the data read from All India School Education Survey.

There are some factors that could discourage children from going to school, some of them are 11% of the total schools do not have a pucca building, 17% lack drinking water facility, 25.5% schools do not have usable urinals and 47% do not have a playground.

A main factor which plays a role in hindering girls to enrol in schools is the location of the schools from their habitats. 41.7% of the primary schools and are located beyond 1km or more outside the habitats. When it comes to upper primary schools location 71.3% schools are located at least 3 kms or further from the habitat which is perceived as unsafe in rural India to send a girl child further away for education. Such challenges which require mind set changes armed with emphasis on value of education should be inculcated within the communities to encourage them to send children to schools. A habitat in rural India has many other issues pertaining to scarcity of drinking water which needs to be fetched from far, sanitation facilities, electricity and roads etc. All these factors again hinder the parents to send children to school, as they are compelled to use every available hand for their livelihood. Please note that the parents here do not put the children to work for someone outside, but the child ends up working for the family to ensure that the day goes by with some help to its parents.

Keeping the economic inequality factor, if one looks pragmatically at Starvation Wages as per Arjun Sen Gupta’s Report in 2009 for Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, states that  76.8% parents of these 23.36 crore children live below poverty level earning less than Rs. 20 a day. Even if we consider the information published in World Population Data Sheet 2011 which clearly states that according to World Bank ‘s World Development Indicators Report in 2011 confirms that 76% of Indian population live on less than US$ 2 per day which is less than meagre when one looks at the rising food prices in India. So, the affordability of sending children to any school except for the mid-day meal scheme is miniscule for the below the poverty line population. And most of the parents put their children to work along with them or send them away from home for work so the child starts to contribute to the family income.

According to the 2001 census 12.6 million children below the age of 14 are forced into child labour, of these 1,30,403 are working in occupations identified as hazardous. (Note: We do not have Child Labour statistics for 2011 census from Census India yet.) 72% of all child domestic workers are girls according to International Labour organisation explaining the low enrolment levels in primary schools and dropout rates from primary to upper primary level for girl children.

Right against Child Marriage:

According to ‘Children in India 2012 –A Statistical Appraisal’ report by Ministry of Statistics and Implementation recorded cases under ‘Prohibition of Child Marriage Act’ and ‘Immoral Traffic (P) Act’ registered sharp increase of 200% and 50% respectively. Most of the child marriages in India are unreported owing to the closely knit communities and caste system prevailing in the Indian society. The National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, GOI, too published a report on increase in crimes against children by 24% from year 2010 to 2011, where child marriages are included. National Family Health Survey (II) data suggests that the median age for the marriage of girls in India is 16.4 years. The survey also found that 65% of the Indian girls are married by the time they are 18.

While there are several adverse effects of child marriages some of them namely, dropout form mainstream education thus violating the fundamental right of education for the child. The effect on a girl child, who is often a victim of this social peril, is much more in terms of health, leading to higher incidence of infant mortality rate due to the underage mother. The overall well being of the child too is at stake owing to the vulnerability of a young bride in an Indian household where she is expected to perform the chores of an adult and take the responsibility of a family which is another violation of child rights.

For a male child the additional responsibility that is put on the shoulders at a young age to raise and provide for a family when he himself is an adolescent, takes a toll on the overall well being. Such children are more prone to alcoholism and psychological problems and personal trauma. A household where both parents are minors obviously have a low income level and hence lead to creating poverty ridden families in the society which is again sucked into the vicious circle of poverty, hunger and malnourishment.

Proper counselling sessions should be held for parents and elders in the communities to update and educate them on the negative outcome of child marriages. Staff at Primary Health Care centres, ASHA workers, Aanganwadi Workers, teachers, who interact closely with rural communities can serve as communication channels, to curb this social evil emphasizing the health risks of an underage motherhood. A close watch by the law enforcement agencies in the regions too will help in reducing the incidence of child marriages in India.

Right to Freedom:

Every child is born free to enjoy his childhood. However this fundamental right of freedom is denied for at least 12.6 million children in the age group of 5-14 yrs in India as per National Labour statistics. India with its larger population has the highest number of child labourers in the world, less than 14 years of age according to International Labour Organisation which accounts 18.8% of children in Asia-Pacific  are put to work.  Even the National Sample Survey Organisation in its report states that over 49.84 lakh children are working full-time as wage earners.

By employing a child we not only deny the children of their basic rights as outlined above but also create a world with economic imbalance and a horrifying society full of denied children who grow up to be adults. In October 2013 ILO, appreciated the efforts of many nations for their marked progress against Child Labour and reiterated their commitment to fully implement the Roadmap for Achieving the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour by 2016, adopted at The Hague Global Child Labour Conference in 2010.

If one looks at the manner in which a child is put to work, any kind of work is considered hazardous for the child owing to the age, lack of perception towards danger, lack of education, lower comprehension levels and violation of Right to Freedom which is a defined fundamental right for every citizen of India, young or old. From domestic work done by 72% of the total girl children across the world as per ILO statistics, to handling of machinery in industries to being street vendors, children are subject to abuse when they are taken from the protective environment of parental and family care and are forced to work. The overall mental health along with the physical growth is stunted as these children are deprived of their basic right to enjoy their childhood. While child labour is the extreme form of violation of right to freedom, most of the children employed are made to believe that, this is the way of their life owing to their social standing, caste or economic background of their parents. The worst part is the children cannot defend themselves from this kind of abuse because they do not have a voice. Even if they muster up to voice their woes out, their voices are subdued in the din of adult greed.

Agriculture is one of the largest sectors that employ children rampantly. Here in this sector children often work with their parents in the fields as additional help. Agricultural labourers also come under the large segment of unorganised labour force in India. It is a known fact that many of the below the poverty line families put their adolescent children to work in NREGA which is a popular minimum wages scheme implemented by Govt, of India. Due toe dearth of work and to elevate the rural unorganised labour force from poverty this initiative by government ensures at least 100 days of guaranteed work for each household every year, with an average wage earned per beneficiary is Rs.115 in year 2012. This is hardly enough as per the rising prices for basic livelihood in India owing to the rising prices. Owing to these factors and hunger dynamics in which supersedes the wisdom of putting the children into schools, parents are compelled to take them to work with them. Often girls in the age group of 11 years or younger don saris to portray like adults and try to get employment through this scheme. Even such schemes are offered for a limited period of time where only 100 days of work is offered and often families are forced to migrate to urban areas in search for livelihood.

Such migration again exposes their children to several health and social hazards including urban pollution, sexual abuse when they are put to work in cities. Their dwellings in the urban slums are often razed to grounds in the name of infrastructure expansion leaving the children homeless violating several other Child Rights.  Displacement of adults affects the children in many ways. Girl children are often put to domestic work in urban areas where both adults in urban nuclear families go to work, exposing them to sexual abuse.


Sectors in which children are employed

Findings from the worst forms of Child Labour in India

While the labour law in India defines anyone below 14 years are legally not allowed to work and employers are liable for a fine and imprisonment, child labour is still rampant across the length and breadth of India.

Case Study  1 – Manga

One case study report from MV Foundation, an NGO that works for protecting Child Rights, highlights a story where the child Manga, was brought from Vizag district to work for a family residing the state capital of Hyderabad city, as a child care giver at the tender age of 8. The rescue operation for this child with the aid of a social worker was a long tedious one which spanned to over 2 years. The child in the mean time was abused verbally and physically and was threatened not to reveal the details of her employment even after the rescue. The fear instilled in the young girl’s mind that her parents in the village will be punished if she confesses the abuse meted on her by her employer often leads a complex situation where law cannot punish the culprits stringently. Manga is now under the care of MV Foundation and is attending higher secondary school. Her aim is to become an engineer if she has enough resources and help to pursue her dream.

Case Study 2 – K. Rama & Siva Sai

Another case study which was handled directly by Hyderabad Labour department where Mr. N. Ajith[30], a resident of  upscale Millennium Royal Apartments, in  Ameerpet, Hyderabad was caught red-handed by the Deputy Commissioner of Labour S. Naresh Kumar, which involved the rescue of 2 under-age children K.Rama and Siva Sai both aged below 14 years. Both children work as bonded labour inside the apartment round the clock. The girl Rama works as a child care giver for an infant and the boy Shiva works as domestic help. Both children do not attend any school or get any other form of education.  The raid conducted by labour department resulted in successful rescue operation of both children and imposition of fine of Rs. 20,000 for each child and a case was registered against the employer. The children were rescued amidst the presence of media and were sent to government run residential schools. However, the case took an ugly turn when the employer brought in the children’s parents and used his political connections to bring back the children to work at his home exactly 29 days after the rescue operation. There were no checks and measures by the Hyderabad labour Commissioner in this particular case. The media too which was very vocal about child abuse moved on. The residents of the apartment complex including the key association members who were eye witnesses to the rescue, too decided to ignore this issue fearing threats from their influential neighbour. The fate of these children is sealed with the greedy and selfish employer who continues to hijack the childhood and future of these two innocents.

As per UNICEF statistical report on India 2013, we have a total of 11.8% Child labour force in India. Though Indian Labour ministry did not provide any numbers on the child labour statistics after year 2001, NGOs like MV Foundation and Childline confirm that the numbers are much higher and often go unreported or untraced by the officials.

Stricter law enforcement by officials is the only way to solve the problem of child labour. After the rescue the child needs psychological help to cope up with the trauma and often this is not offered at the government run hostels and homes. NGOs like MV Foundation are often cash strapped owing to their own fundraising limitations are already bursting its seams accommodating children.

Right to be Free from Discrimination:

Rural India witnesses caste and community wise discrimination apart for economic and social standing which is prevalent in both urban and rural areas. There is an incident that occurred recently in a Dalit community in rural Karnataka where children are local school asked to sit separately in the classroom owing to their caste. This was found through a study done by Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Mangalore University. The study revealed the plight of 50 villages where children from 825 families attend primary school owing to their caste. Such discrimination scars the child who will grow up to be an adult carrying the wound.

Right to Protection from Abuse:

In 2011, the crimes against children reported a 24% increase from the previous year with a total of 33,098 cases of crimes against children, reported in the country during 2011, as compared to 26,694 cases during 2010. These numbers from Indian Social Statistics Report on Children 2012 account to the reported crimes on children. There are several crimes including child sexual abuse, which goes unreported, as a child is too innocent to comprehend whether his body is being abused or not. The discomfort experienced during abuse is often subdued by threats given by the same adults who indulge in child sexual abuse.

The most vulnerable are the children from below poverty line families who are sent to work for full-time or part-time, thus exposing them to all kinds of abuse – verbal, physical, emotional as well as sexual. According to Child Protection report by India Governance the Ministry of Home Affairs, GOI, estimates that 90 percent of trafficking of children accounts to sexual exploitation and is within the country itself. Many of these trafficked children are as young as 8 yrs of age. The report also states that commercial sexual exploitation of children accounts for Rs. 11,000 crores of the Rs. 40,000 crores commercial sex industry giving a share of over 25% of the revenues. Such is the deplorable and shocking aspects of child abuse.

While not all forms of child abuse account to sexual, but a majority of it is. The other forms scar the child permanently, be it physical or emotional denying the child from enjoying his childhood. Only stricter law enforcement on culprits and empathy towards children together can minimise child abuse.

Right to Protection from Exploitation and Neglect:

This child right is interlinked with Child sexual abuse, trafficking, child labour etc, all accounting to exploitation. Neglect in terms of abandonment by parents, society and government who play the major roles in protecting these child rights. Every child needs a happy and worry-free childhood.

Often at MV Foundation we encounter children who are abandoned by their own parents. For families below the poverty line, raising a child is a mammoth task owing to their social status. In some cases, where single parent family where the mother dies in child birth and father abandoning the family owing to the mounting responsibilities of raising a child on his own, while earning a livelihood becomes difficult. Such circumstances lead to abandonment. Alcoholic and abusive parents are another factor.

Gild child is often a victim for the social evil of female infanticide where the children are killed during pregnancy or worse still abandoned in the hospitals and streets after delivery. This practice is because if the patriarchal mindset in people of India. Such instances are not rare even in urban areas. Hence most of the orphans one encounters in India are girls.

Right to be Heard and Participate Freely:

Children often try to communicate in several creative ways to express themselves about how they feel. However, most of the adults and the society are too busy in their own world to listen to the child and understand his needs. A lot of child issues can be solved by listening to a child and allowing him to express freely without fear of judgment. This will ensure the participation from the child and encourages him to communicate freely.


Artistic expression of a child named Saraswathi who is a rescued from child labour by MV Foundation volunteers

A fun-filled activity of drawing class at MV Foundation girls’ camp conducted by student volunteer Chitra [Chitra is a student volunteer with MV Foundation who regularly interacts with children in bringing out the creative instincts in them. She conducts workshops and activity based classes which are different from the regular curriculum.], gave a lot of insight into the mindset of the children at the hostel. While some of the sketches were just doodles, some had profound underlying meaning in them when we correlated them with the case studies of the individual child. Of the 40 students who were given a free hand to draw whatever they wished, at the end of the whole exercise, Chitra reported 19 sketches with an image of a house, 12 featured nature, 2 featured dolls/ girl child, 2 with Mickey Mouse cartoon character, 2 with images of Indian God Ganesha, 1 with a police station, 1 with a colourful dress and 1 with Indian flag.  Such were the expressions of the children in one 30 minutes exercise. The teachers at MV Foundation confirmed that the children who drew home images had a longing for family life, while the children who drew nature scenes and animals, were better at comprehending etc. This report is further analysed for details that can reveal the innermost and underlying psychological feelings in the children.

Right to Leisure & Free Time:

Every child has a right to free time. While we say this we have at least 47% of the primary and upper primary schools without playgrounds, which are quite appalling. Though the right to compulsory education is implemented, our education system and parental aspirations puts unnecessary pressures on the child to constantly study or indulge in activities that the child may not necessarily enjoy. Sometimes this attitude of parents is not even considered as denying this child leisure and free time but rather as smothering affection in India. Such practices are largely adopted by parents for fulfilling their own aspirations. Irrespective of adults’ aspirations or love, every child should not be denied of his basic childhood pleasures of exploring the world with his eyes, feel the nature and experience the awe of life.

Lack of facilities to indulge in outdoor sports or very low metabolic rate in children both in urban and rural areas lead to different set of health complications both physical and mental. In urban India, where 30% of the Indian population lives, especially with middle level income group families, child obesity is increasing at an alarming level owing to the sedentary lifestyles and living in closed quarters of apartment complexes. In rural areas the problems for children are multi-fold and they double up to work with their parents for livelihood which erases any leisure time they might have.

Right to Family Life:

Every child deserves to be with his family and develop the bonding to know that he is loved, taken care of and nurtured into a positive and a healthy adult. Without going into details spending time with family increases the productivity in children and in turn making them brighter students in the classroom.  With growing divorce rates in adults, abandonment statistics,  single parenting, nuclear families, displacement from habitats all add up to the denial of a healthy family life in children. Adults should take necessary steps and measures that the children are not denied of this basic necessity for developing a beautiful mind and a healthy body while enjoying family life.

Some Contradictions & Challenges

The very definition of child is a big question when protecting Child Rights. UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) defines a child as anyone below 18 years of age where as Indian Labour department doesn’t consider anyone above 14 years working as a child. This creates a lot of confusion for law enforcement agencies who implement Child Labour Act, as an adolescent of 14 years age is legally allowed to work.

Another contradiction with one of the defined Child Rights – Right to Education emphasizes on getting the primary and upper primary level education for each child without failing anyone till class VIII. Each child’s comprehension level varies irrespective of their age which is not accounted for in this type of instruction. Our education system is largely based on age groups in classroom. This may not work, owing to the levels of comprehension in a child. However, the authorities do not conduct any checks and measures for gauging the child’s comprehension levels in education but merely pass the student to the next level until the child reaches Class VIII.

MV Foundation’s Bridge Course

In government schools the education standards are very low at primary and upper primary levels that most of the students are sent to MV Foundation run Bridge school for a few months to improve the child’s comprehension level. In a bridge course the child is taught alphabet based on phonetics and his earlier life irrespective of age. Only comprehension levels are assessed before moving the child to a new group where the next level of classes is conducted in arithmetic, science and languages etc. The transition from learning alphabets and identifying the letters, words and framing their own sentences is fast with this kind of instruction. The Bridge Course is the cornerstone for MV Foundation says Sucheta Mahajan in her research report under the name ‘Education for Social Change”.  The results speak for themselves. Under the complete care of residential teachers children are able to read, write and comprehend languages, do basic arithmetic and understand subjects like natural and physical sciences apart from following a holistic lifestyle in a matter of 12-16 months at MV Foundation. Such practice of bridge school method of teaching can be adapted by government run residential schools and educational institutions and also the private schools to ease the stress on education and curriculum. This will ensure more freedom on the part of the child to make informed career choices when he grows up to be an adult.

Right to Education (RTE) is nowhere in place or applies to a child after he attains age of 14. However, most of the vocational courses offered in India, for earning livelihood or even helping in choosing a higher education stream starts after completing Class X, including for obtaining skill-based training. With RTE limiting the child’s education, by removing the compulsory rule once he attains age of 14 yrs, may not be able to motivate him to complete class X to pursue further studies. This hinders the child’s pursuit of acquiring knowledge and encourages them to drop out from school after class VIII. RTE should be extended to Class X or till choosing a skill based educational course which will not only empower the child and secure his future and also ease the financial burden on the nation in terms of welfare measures or providing employment to future generations.

Child Line

As of March 2011, this national child protection service is in operation in 30 States and Union Territories, 172 cities, through its 415 partner organisations, and receives 2.5 million calls per year across India. It has received a total of 21 million calls since its inception ranging from all the aspects of child concerns directly by children and responsible adults.

Despite having such service, a child in India is often abused and it goes unreported. Only child friendly law enforcement, empathy in  understanding and implementing Child Rights can restore childhood at all levels and save the children from abuse.


“We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the foundation of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer “Tomorrow”. His name is ‘Today’”.”
-Gabriela Mistral, 1948

This paper was presented at the National Human Rights Seminar organised by Osmania University, College of Law on 9th March 2013. 

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