On health issues,
India ranks among
the worst nations in
the world for its child
One more November 14 has come and gone. We have celebrated children's Day in India. But we dare not celebrate the status of the Indian child. That would again expose our hypocrisy and dual standards. Every year, on this significant day, we renew our promises to the child. We have been observing this day since 1947 with the appropriate speeches and pledges to save the country's youngest citizens. We have given them all the rights enshrined in our constitution. The right to food. The right to security. The right to education. The right to health care. But, alas, we failed to give them the right to enjoy these benefits tangibly.
The child has the right to food. But, where is the proper public distribution system? She has the right to education. Where are the visible schools? She also has the right to good health. Are there enough manned primary health care centers to immunise 7.6 million children against fatal diseases? True, there are hospitals which give them free diagnosis and treatment. But are they properly equipped to cater to such vast numbers? Lastly, she has the right to security. And where are the homes for these millions of children who sleep on pavements, rummage in garbage bins or work in factories in unhygienic conditions?
The Union government has published a voluminous compendium titled "slums in India" where it is stated that nearly 8 million children who constitute more than 13 percent of the urban child population in the county, are homeless. Yes, they do have a home o sorts in slums which have no water or electric facilities, no protection against sun or rain, no decent environment to live and grow. These children constitute more than 13 percent of the child population in the country, and they live in the large metros Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai. It's same that even in the more developed states like Karnataka we have large numbers of very young children living in slums, according to the government of India survey.
Slum dwelling is not the worst evils faced by the Indian child. The practice and social acceptance of child labour is appalling. Whether it is bonded labour in agriculture, hazardous labour in factories or plain exploitative domestic labour, children who are forced into work at the cost of their health, safety, education, and freedom are the victims of a heartless society. Even more so are the children who are forced into prostitution and other illegal activities. Governments have done precious little for these victims of cruel practices other than legislate and making rules and regulations. How do children react when such rules are broken and they are victimised? They have no voice or platform to protest.
Non Govt Organizations (NGOs) have spread their wings to jump into this band wagon of saving the child. How much have they really achieved? Are they also merely using the child to promote themselves? The figures relating to child exploitation in India speak more eloquently than all the promises made by governments and non government organisations.
Coming to health issues, India again ranks among the worst nations in the world for its child mortality rates. According to the latest UNICEF report, of nearly 10 million infants who die below the age of five, a shameless two million are from in India. They die either due to maternal malnutrition or their own malnourished state. The sad part of this story is that almost all these deaths where preventible. The same UNICEF established its world renowned Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) nearly 30 years ago. If only the central and the state governments had taken pains to ensure that this wonderful children's programme was well conducted, the Indian child would have presented a totally different picture.
Large scales pilfering of food and arbitrary employment of anganwadi workers have reduced the ICDS into one more avenue for corruption and nepotism. As for education, the child population in this country still remains largely uneducated. State run institutions which they can afford are notoriously mediocre. The lack of school buildings, playgrounds, teachers and other basic amenities is a great deterrent to children trying to attend them. Official sources indicate that out of 90 percent enrolled in primary schools in India, 40 percent drop out before reaching middle school. If this is the state of affairs in urban India, one can imagine the plight of children in rural or hilly areas. They cannot even commute to schools because of distance and friendly terrain. Girl children rarely attend schools in such places for safety reasons. In 2002, through the 83rd constitutional amendment, the central government has pledged that "every single child in the country has a fundamental right to food, security, health, education…"
Children of India, are you listening?
By Vatsala vedantam
(Courtesy: Deccan Herald, 2/12/2011)