Realizing Children’s Rights in India
India at a Glance
The Republic of India is a country in South Asia that has 29 states, it’s capital state being New Delhi. It has six bordering countries including Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. India has a lot of diversity in customs, traditions, and languages of which Hindi is the most used. India’s current population standing at 1.21 billion, it is the second most populous and seventh most extensive country in the world. It is a vast country and among the top developing nations in the world. Despite the fact that the country has shown remarkable progress in terms of economic growth, with an average of 7.3% over the past five years. It continues to face similar challenges to other BRICS countries- high growth rates being accompanied by persistent poverty and inequality. This inequality is reflected in the low human development attainments of the countries most marginalized groups including casts, tribal and rural population, women, transgendered people living with HIV and migrants. Despite India’s significant progress in addressing poverty, access to education, and HIV levels, the results have mainly been uneven. India’s children continue to face some of the harshest conditions anywhere in the world, with high malnutrition rates (stunting), child labour and forced begging, and childhood illnesses such as diarrheal disease.
Status of Children’s Rights
There are 472 million children in India under the age of 18 years, representing 39% of the country’s total population. A large percentage, 29% of that figure constitute children between the ages of 0 to 6 years. In addition, 73% of children in India are living in rural areas, often have limited access to fundamental needs such as nutrition, access to healthcare, education, and protection. The high percentage of children living in rural areas often result in negative repressions in terms of children accessing fundamental rights. India’s commission for the protection of children’s rights (act 2005) (amended in 2006), has had some impact in promoting children’s rights in India. Notably eliminating child labour, protection of children, and young persons. The commission’s mandate is “to ensure all Laws, Policies, Programmes, and Administrative Mechanisms are in line with the Child Rights perspectives as enshrined in the constitution of India and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”, adopted in 1989. It is clear that in India promoting children’s rights is a government priority, that is enshrined within the constitution and protected in legislation. Despite this, children in India continue to face challenges in attaining these rights, particularly those related to access to education, forced labour, and child marriage. Given that children make up 39% of India’s 1.21 billion population, it is imperative that the rights of these children are met.
Realization of Children’s Rights Index
An indicator is a specific observable and measurable characteristic which is used to show changes or progress of a programme is making toward achieving a specific outcome. Humanium uses key indicators to monitor the situation of children’s rights globally. This is reflected in the Realization of Children’s Rights Index.
Realization of Children’s Rights Index :
Red level : Difficult situation
Population: 1.2 billion
Life expectancy: 66,4 years
Child-sensitive Social Protection
Social protection is essential for preventing and reducing poverty for children and families, for addressing inequalities, and for realizing children’s rights. In addition, it is essential that social protection programmes respond to children’s vulnerabilities by optimizing positive effects for children and minimizing potential adverse consequences. Child-sensitive social protection has the opportunity to address chronic poverty, social exclusion, and external shocks which can irreversibly affect children. This is especially important for children living in rural zones which often face greater vulnerabilities exacerbated by their living conditions. Given that only 27% of Indian children live in urban zones and an overwhelming 73% live in rural areas, it is important to expand access to social protection programs for children. As a result, In India, child-sensitive social protection (CSSP) programmes are supported by saving the children, UNICEF, and the ministry of social protection. The aim is to promote and realize children’s rights by ensuring that social protection measures lead to meaningful investment in children.
Addressing the needs of Children
Right to Health
Addressing access to health is a key indicator of attaining children’s rights. In India, nearly 1 million children die under the age of five, an estimated 39 deaths per 1,000 live births. Women and children are most likely to suffer disadvantages related to accessing health services such as maternal and newborn coverage. Only 1 in 3 Indian women benefit from regular monitoring of their pregnancy. In rural areas, barely 37% of births are assisted by qualified health personnel. India has more than 204 million undernourished people and Indian children remain the most affected. Children in India often face a high prevalence of stunting with rates as high as 39%. As a response, the government started a large awareness campaign in order to educate the population about the importance of a varied and balanced diet.
Children also face other challenges including a high incidence of HIV infections: 3700 new infections among children, a lack of safe drinking water, and adequate sanitation. The latter, as a result of uneven distribution of comprehensive health services to women and children in rural states.
Right to Education
Access to education in India remains a very problematic and key barrier to realizing children’s rights. India continues to have the largest number of illiterate people in the world at 287 million adults, the largest population globally, and 37% of the world’s total. Although India’s literacy rate increased by 15% between 1991 and 2006, subsequent population growth had meant that the total number of illiterate people remained high. Despite India’s efforts to devote 10.5% of its total government expenditure on education, its decentralized nature means that rich states can spend much more on education than poorer states. For example, a rich state like Kerala spent $685 per person per year on education while a poorer state like Bihar only spent $100. This unequal distribution of education further marginalizes children especially those living in rural area.
Discrimination linked to the caste system as well as discrimination against woman also remains, marginalizing millions of young Indians in the educational system. Despite this, the Indian government is trying to find solutions to allow all Indians, young or old, to benefit from high-quality education in order to fight against illiteracy. In spite of the continuing problems, India can be very proud of itself for having made considerable progress in its educational system.
Since 2009, Humanium has collaborated with local partners in India to implement children’s rights, by opening residential special training centers for former child labourer’s, promoting both “child-friendly villages”, and various higher education aid projects. The aim of these projects is to end child labour through education, improve the living of whole villages in rural areas, and provide financial assistance projects which enable young people from disadvantaged families to pursue higher education.
Right to life
The Indian constitution of 1950 asserts that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of persons”, and that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty…”. Despite this fundamental right enshrined in the constitution, life, survival, and child development remain areas of concern in India.
Thousands of children lose their lives each day, not only because of poverty but also because female infanticides are practiced with impunity. The main threat to Indian children’s right to life stems from these female infanticides, a cultural practice that persists. In fact, each day, thousands of small Indian girls either die before being born or lose their lives because they are not desired or accepted by their family. There are several factors which contribute to the practice of female infanticides, including the dowry system which makes daughters “an unaffordable economic burden”.
To deal with this problem, many Indian families turn to selective abortion of the female fetus (feticide). Even more alarming, when the birth of the child is unavoidable, families kill the babies by drowning, poison, suffocation, or deliberate negligence leading to the death of the child.
The reality is even more frightening: globally 117 million girls demographically go missing due to selective sex-abortions, and in India, every minute, 9 abortions of female fetuses will take place. Furthermore, as a result of sex-abortions India ranked number four among countries with the most skewed sex ratio at 112 males for every 100 females.
Right to protection, and freedom of expression
In India, a child has the right to be protected from neglect, exploitation, and abuse at home and elsewhere. Children have the right to be protected from the incidence of abuse, exploitation, violence, neglect, commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labour, and harmful traditional practices to name a few. Yet according to a study conducted by the government in 2007, more than 69% of children aged 5 to 18 years old are victims of abuse. There are many who must face humiliation and violence every day.
More than half of the abuses inflicted upon children are committed by a close group of people who have a relationship of confidence and authority with the child. In Indian families, parents have absolute authority over their children. Furthermore, this strict discipline is also found in academic areas, a study found that 65% of school-going children have faced corporal punishment at the hands of academic staff.
A contributing factor to the neglect of children is a result of cultural values which does not have high esteem and standing for the words and opinions of children. As such, no Indian legislation specifically mentions this right, and education focuses on the respect children must show to adults.
To fully realize children right to protection, it is important to adopt a different attitude towards children and their needs. It is also necessary to invest in educating and training caregivers on children’s fundamental right to protection, and prosecuting those who neglect it.
Despite the fact that the second article of the UN convention of the right of the child ensures the right not to be discriminated against including sexual orientation. Historically, in India, the LGBTQ+ community has been a target of discrimination. Mainly, as a result of a 157-year old colonial-era law (Section 377) which criminalizes certain sexual acts that are punishable by a 10-year jail term. This law not only deprived LGBTQ+ children of their fundamental rights, but subjects LGBTQ+ children and youth to bullying, harassment, isolation, and violence.
In a historical decision, India’s Supreme Court has ruled that gay sex is no longer a criminal offense, overturning a 2013 judgment which upheld the law known as section 377. The court has now ruled discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of rights. Further, the court asserted “the state had no right to control the private lives of LGBT community members and that the denial of the right to sexual orientation was the same as denying the right to privacy”. In India, this ruling represents a huge victory for the LGBTQ+ community, and globally, serves as inspiration that change is possible for countries which still criminalizes homosexuality.
Another important factor for realizing children rights is realizing their right to identity and registration. India suffers from one of the highest non-registration rates for children in the world. Only 41% of births are registered. There is a big urban-rural difference in registration with 59% of urban children under five being registered versus only 35% in rural areas. This leads to serious difficulties for these people because they cannot benefit from child-sensitive social protection services and programmes, as such are invisible in the eyes of society.
Risk factors →Country-specific challenges
Poverty, and access to water
Since 1991, India has experienced strong economic growth. This often-spectacular development offers hints of new hopes relating to human rights and social development. However, given India’s large population, many people continue to live in great poverty. The country is strongly characterized by inequalities between different regions and groups of populations. Children are most affected by poverty and social inequality. A major contributing factor to this poverty is the lack of clean water. The latter is necessary for consumption and agriculture, and it must struggle against the spread of diseases caused by the absence of sufficient sanitation. These diseases often resulting in deadly childhood illnesses.
Even though 96% of the population living in cities has access to clean water, 73% of Indian children live in rural areas where access to potable water remains a considerable problem: 20% of the rural population does not always have access to potable water. As a result of this, it is the children living in these areas who are most exposed to various health problems linked to water.
Moreover, children suffering from a lack of water miss the possibility to grow up in a healthy environment because neither homes nor schools allow them to benefit from the minimum required hygiene standards. Addressing poverty, the uneven distribution of water and other social inequalities are crucial for realizing children’s rights.
In the last years, India has put efforts in programs to fight against child labour. Major factors which contribute to this problem are the lack of food, high poverty, as well as social and economic circumstances. Other contributing factors include the lack of awareness about the harmful effects of child labour, as well as the lack of access to basic and meaningful quality education and skills training.
A recent analysis of census data in the country shows an overall decrease in child labour of only 2.2 percent yearly, over the last 10 years. Also, it has revealed that child labour has grown by more than 50 percent in urban areas.
Children under 14 often work full days in hacking cobbles stones, stitching shoes and footballs, rolling cigarettes and incense sticks, embroidery work on clothing, crafts, packing, and sticking labels to name a few. Child labour is often the result of adult unemployment or low parental wages forcing children to contribute to home production.
Children forced in labour rather than education are not given the opportunity to develop physically, intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically. India has one of the youngest populations in the world, yet more than 42.7 million children are out of school.
Child sexual abuse is a dark reality that is highly prevalent in India and adversely impacts the health and wellbeing of children. Statistics show that every 15 minutes one child is sexually abused. According to research, child sex offenders can be distinguished into two groups. The first group account for about 60% of officially known offenders and show no sexual preference disorder, but who, for different reasons, sexually abuse children. The other groups are those showing a sexual preference disorder, namely pedophilia.
Individual factors such as poor socio-economic status, the death of a parent or husband, and being born to a commercial sex worker are pathways to initiation into commercial sex work. Early childhood experience because of sexual abuse was also documented as a risk factor for re-victimization as well as initiation into commercial sex work. The lack of proper family support, family and personal history of mental health pathologies, and family exposures to sexual images were some of the other potential risk factors.
Moreover, the lack of sanitation and poor safety of women were also found to be community-level factors which increased the risks for sexual abuse. The health outcomes of child sexual abuse can be grouped into mental health, physical health, behavioral, and interpersonal. Children who experience sexual abuse have a high risk for psychiatric disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorders, suicidal behaviors, and depression.
In India, there was a decline in the percentages of girls getting married under the age of 16 as well as below 18 over the 20-year period 1992–2012. In addition, the mean age at marriage is 16.6 years old. There is some evidence from that child labour may in itself increase the risk of child marriage. Furthermore, girls who married as children were less likely to have been enrolled in secondary school. By the age of 15 years, only 40 percent of the girls who were child brides continued to be enrolled in school, compared to 86 percent of the girls who were unmarried when they turned 18.