It's ironic what we have been witnessing for decades now. On every Republic Day we hail the bravery of our children and on every Children's Day we commit to working towards improving the status of India's children. And yet, before every Budget we only witness news headlines and television debates informing us about the measures that need to be taken to boost the economy, to cut deficits and so on and so forth, conveniently forgetting the need to look after children's interests. Forgetting that children, who form 40 per cent of our population, also have a right to look forward to the Budget working for them.
Perhaps, the Budget is more of an economic document but surely it affects all schemes of the government equally. Let's keep in mind that the year 2016 holds significance for the scores of children in India as a new development framework - the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - is in place, and which will influence their chart the changes that must be implemented to improve their lives for the coming 15 years until 2030.
The newly established SDGs, which have replaced the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) this year, need committed resources to make them implementable and achievable. India, given its huge population and the wide developmental needs, has a big role to play if we are to make the world a better place for children.
If we didn't completely succeed in catering to our children, especially those from the most marginalised sections of our society, the SGDs present us with another opportunity to get our priorities right. Hence, it is imperative that our government keep the following child-centric concerns in mind while making its Budget for 2016-17:
1. Child protection: The increase in juvenile crime rate was quoted many times in the Parliament during the last year. The government also responded with the new Juvenile Justice Act (JJ Act), but to ensure this Act is implemented well, it requires at least a three-fold increase in Integrated Child Protection Scheme Budget from Rs 500 crore to Rs. 1500 crore against the revised ICPS budgetary norms of ICPS 2014 for all the states and UTs in the country.
a. A special budget allocation for implementation of new JJ Act: The increase in ICPS budget is important in the year 2016-17, considering the new Juvenile Justice Act has been passed by our Parliament, the implementation of the JJ Act will require setting up infrastructure in all states and UTs for juveniles accused of heinous offences. The infrastructure gaps and gaps in human resources was one of the big challenges in implementing the JJ Act, 2000, now with the new JJ Act in place, this is time to invest strategically from the beginning of the year 2016-17.
b. Budget for protection of girl children: A national campaign against child abuse to raise awareness will be an important step along with setting up of counselling centres in all districts. On an average 676 districts will require Rs 2 lakh per month per district to start counselling service within the District Child Protection Units. According to our estimates, the infrastructure may cost Rs 162 crore. Another Rs 35 crore is needed, at the rate of Rs 1 crore per state/UT, for monitoring and awareness generation. Hence we urge the government to allocate Rs 200 crore for the new JJ Act. It can be allocated from the Nirbhaya fund.
2. Education: The country is nowhere near the Kothari Commission recommendations of 1966, which had pushed to increase the public spending on education to six per cent of the GDP. Today, only eight per cent of government schools are Right to Education (RtE) -compliant. The major gaps in area of budgetary allocation for RtE implementation are in retention, access, enhancing quality and school infrastructure. The total gap of teachers in primary school was more than five lakh in 2014, which is a major area of concern. The government must allocate enough budget for filling the vacant positions of school teachers in elementary schools. At least 50 per cent of the vacant position of qualified teachers should be filled in year 2016-17 to ensure quality education in elementary schools. To fill these gaps, it is important to raise the elementary education budget from present 1.64 per cent of GDP to 2.5 per cent of GDP.
3. Child development and nutrition: The Budget can ensure healthy children to develop a healthy nation. The allocation made for the children in year 2015-16 was 3.26 per cent of total Union Budget, which was a huge decline from 4.52 per cent in 2014-15. Analysis of sector-wise allocations shows that out of every Rs 100 allocated for children in the budget Rs 79 has been allocated for education and Rs 16 for development, however health and child protection needs have received only Rs 5. The child health budget provided in 2015-16 was a miniscule 0.13 per cent of the health budget.
Presently, India spends a measly 1.3 per cent of total GDP on public health. To ensure no children die due to preventable causes like diarrhoea and pneumonia, India needs to increase the public health budget to at least five per cent of its GDP, which is also the norm set up by the World Health Organisation.
Especially since they have been ignored in past Budgets, children need to be prioritised now for their all-round development by allocating appropriate resources to meet their needs. Shouldn't children have the first right over the country's resources?
Every Budget should give equal importance to child health and development, education and protection as much as it gives to economic development. As a country that is reaping rich democratic dividends it is absolutely crucial that we invest NOW in children - they may not be voters as yet but they are going to decide on future governments and shape India into an educated, healthy and safe nation for all its citizens.