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Was 2018 a game-changer for children in India?

Certain cases like Kathua, Unnao and the Bihar shelter homes incident depict the grim severity of the situation, and the urgency for us to step up as citizens to take a definitive action against these incidents.

Was 2018 a game-changer for children in India?
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India as a country, in terms of expanse and population, is huge. With a population of over 1.2 billion, 39% are children, which is around 470 million. Children are not just our future, but our present too, and we need to work collectively to ensure that their rights are protected.

Was 2018 a game-changer for India’s children? While some decisions taken by the Centre have been a step towards the right direction, events in which child rights have been violated have slowed down the growth process. Certain cases like Kathua, Unnao and the Bihar shelter homes incident depict the grim severity of the situation, and the urgency for us to step up as citizens to take a definitive action against these incidents.

Shelter Homes and The Trafficking of Persons Bill

One of the monumental decisions taken by the Parliament was the passing of The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018 by the Lok Sabha in the July session. It proposes a punishment ranging from 10 years of rigorous imprisonment to life term and a fine of not less than Rs 1 lakh for people caught in carrying out trafficking activities. It aims to create institutional mechanisms at the district, state and central level to curb trafficking.Hundreds of children go missing in India every year and are sold for labour or sexual exploitation. The bill has provisions to provide rehabilitation, skill development and education to the victims.

As the Parliament winter session is ongoing, over 12,000 trafficking survivors from 14 states have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the passage of the Trafficking bill in the Rajya Sabha. Women and Child development minister Maneka Gandhi also expressed hope for the passage of the crucial trafficking bill.

The Deoria shelter home incident was another case that gained limelight. A shelter home in Deoria, Uttar Pradesh, run by Girija Tripathi was found to be engaging in illegal activities. The girls in the shelter home were subjected to physical, sexual and mental abuse. Tripathi used her clout with influential local politicians and bureaucrats to run the home and get away with these barbaric acts. 24 girls aged 5-15 were rescued from being trafficked, but 18 are still missing.

The Kathua Rape Case Shook the Nation

The year started on a shocking note. In January 2018, 8-year-old Asifa Bano was abducted, drugged with sedatives, brutally raped and murdered in Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir. A week after she went missing, her body was found by villagers of the neighbouring village.

The Kathua rape case was just one of the many. After the incident, the Parliament took a stand and passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2018. The amendment calls for death punishment for rapists who have raped girls below the age of 12. If the girl is under 16, the minimum punishment will be 20 years to life imprisonment; a change from the previous 10 year sentence. In case of gangrape of a girl below 12 years of age, the accused will be sentenced to life imprisonment or death. The bill also mandates that the investigation and trial must be completed within two months and dismissed.

Children and Health

United Nations Child Mortality Report released this year stated that there were 1.14 million children deaths in India every year. This means 3 infants die every minute. Most of the children die before they turn 5 due to curable and preventable diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and birth complications.The number of deaths was the lowest India has had in 5 years but is still the highest in the world.

This September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Ayushman Bharat Scheme. This scheme is supposedly the world’s largest health care scheme. It will provide 10 crore poor households a reimbursement of upto Rs.5 lakh for secondary and tertiary hospitalisation charges of the entire family. This year 17 crore children were given polio drops catering to a healthy childhood.

Children in Schools

Twelve million children are yet to be enrolled in schools.The dropout rate is fairly high either due to affordability or some other social issue. Girls are married off at a young age and forced to quit schools. 1 in every 3 child brides in the world is a girl in India. The National Social Assistance programme has allocated Rs. 9975 crore by the government this year. The budget plans to treat education holistically.

The emphasis is on improving education by giving proper training to teachers. A merger of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan is in the pipeline. This joint scheme envisions to ensure inclusive and equitable education from nursery to the senior secondary stage.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said that the country is looking to spend Rs 1 trillion to revitalize the infrastructure of higher educational institutions.

The Gender Divide

According to the Lancet Global Health Journal released in May 2018, around 2,39,000 girls under the age of 5 die each year in India due to gender discrimination.

Once the girl is born, negligence in her upbringing leads to illnesses. 32% of the girls enrolled in schools drop out. This is because of family constraints, insufficient funds and lack of sanitation facilities during their menstruation cycle. Therefore, the percentage of literate women and girls is less in comparison to men.

The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme started by the Government in 2015 aims to improve the efficiency of implementation of welfare schemes for women. Through the government campaigns people have started realizing that gender doesn't define capability. This programme has increased the intake of girls in schools but it still has a long way to go.

2018 has seen a number of child rights violation cases, but also seen steps to resolve them and prevent such events in future. We, as responsible citizens, need to question and observe the life children are leading and do our bit to save their childhood. A small step towards the right direction can go a long way in making India safe for children.

Silvy Kalra is a communications professional and a women and child rights activist.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)