Fully one third of the nation - our children - will not have a vote this election. Their interests originate from every conceivable background - language, religion, caste, region. Unlike some other groups who might take their legitimate grievances before election candidates, children are too young to influence the electoral process directly. But their concerns are just as significant; they have endured many deprivations through the years as India has failed to live up to its promises to her youth.
Now, with elections before us, Child Relief and You (CRY), one of the nation's largest advocate of children's rights, is asking those of us who do have a vote - the adults - to speak up in their name. CRY notes that 57 years after independence the situation of the Indian child is truly bleak. A few examples of this fallen state:
- 60 million Indian children under the age of 6 live below the poverty line
- Less than half of India's children between the ages of 6 and 14 years go to school
- Every second child is malnourished
- Almost 2 million children die each year before reaching their first birthday
- Children of 100 million families live without water at home
The repetition of the tired cliché that children are our nation's assets is increasingly hypocritical. Indian children have been continually denied the rights guaranteed to them by our Constitution and by the United Nations Convention, which India is a signatory to. While a few enjoy the fruits of progress and development, the vast majority continues to experience deterioration. The nation's income has grown, yet regional disparities and poverty have increased. Despite the growth in GDP, the share of government spending on health and education has not increased.
Now, the organisation says, it is time to make amends. As an Indian organisation that has worked to restore child rights for 25 years, CRY seeks citizens' support in urging political parties and governments in power to focus on the following issues that affect every Indian child, while fashioning their agenda:
Ensure a universal definition of "child" to include all persons under the age of 18.
Increase government expenditure on children. Specifically increase expenditure on education to 10% and health to 5% of GDP.
All children age 6-18 years, without discrimination, should be in formal, full-time schools that provide quality education. All children below 6 years should be in anganwadis. The government should ensure that all children complete schooling up to Class 10.
The repetition of the tired cliché that children are our nation's assets is increasingly hypocritical. Indian children have been continually denied the rights guaranteed to them by our Constitution and by the United Nations Convention, which India is a signatory to.Complete prohibition on all forms of child labour across sectors including agriculture.
Revision of the National Policy for Children (1974) to make it more comprehensive and in line with the Constitution and the United Nations Convention of Child Rights. Establish the National Commission for Children with statutory powers.
Redraft the Free and Compulsory Education Bill to remove sanctions on parents. Governments should themselves face the penalty for failure to provide free, compulsory education to all.
Formulate and implement a comprehensive rights-based policy on food security for all with extensive legal safeguards. In order that no child goes to bed hungry and no child be born underweight and stay undernourished.
Coverage of the Public Distribution System be expanded to include all families below the internationally approved poverty line (1 US $ per day).
Immediate provision of nutritious mid-day meals in all primary schools and extension of this scheme up to Class 10 with inclusion of out-of-school children. Make available Integrated Child Development Services to all children under the age of 6, as per the Supreme Court order of November 2001.
Nation-wide employment guarantee programme for all adults in order to ensure that children do not have to work and can go to school.
These demands advocate those actions which would affect children's lives immediately, but they also note many others that have an indirect effect on children, such as the employment and well-being of adults who care for them. The manifesto is both a reminder of much that needs to be done, and a demand that political parties meet their responsibilities to tomorrow's citizens too, not just the ones who may put them in office today.