Children need priority from all stakeholders

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Children need priority from all stakeholders

Friday, 18 October 2019 | KC Tyagi

Five year ago, on October 10, Kailash Satyarthi was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle for the liberation of children from bonded labour practices. Now on the fifth anniversary of the award it becomes necessary for us to reflect that whether our actions reflect this sentiment and are demonstrative of our concern for children.

Also whether we as society have moved towards making every child safe, educated and healthy? Undoubtedly, this award has created a positive environment in favour of children as reflected in laws and programmes of the Government. In 2016, child labour law was amended to ensure every child up to the age of 14 years, goes to school instead of being in labour. This was a remarkable beginning towards fulfilling the fundamental right of every child to education.

Even the “Performance Dash Board” of Government of India on education confirms that children are indeed going to schools. The gross enrolment ratio for primary school is now at 94%, an equal percentage of schools have toilet facility - the most important factor in girl’s education and 19.5 lac children with disabilities are enrolled at elementary level. Notwithstanding the above statistics which indeed are impressive, can we say that our children are more educated and better informed? Unfortunately, not.

Annual Statistics of Education Report, 2018 shows that the 73 per cent of children completing std. viii level of schooling, could only read a std. II level text! These statistics confirm that fundamental right of children to education cannot be fulfilled alone by taking them to school, rather they need to be educated properly. Moving towards health of our children, thestatistics present an extremely disappointing picture. The nutritional status of children as reflected in National Family Health Survey–4, indicates 38 per cent of children under five years of age are stunted and 21% are wasted -both signs of acute malnutrition.

Further, 59% of children are anemic, impairing their cognitive development, stunting growth, and increasing morbidity from infectious diseases. 18 per cent of infants are born with low birth weight leaving them with the higher risk of childhood death.

 The numbers of neonatal, which die within the very first week of their birth and percentage of children before the age of five, is also very high and alarming. ICDS, the flagship programme of the Government in the last 45 years has failed to break the vicious cycles of malnutrition and morbidity. The state-wise variations of utilization of its services are stark.

While Odisha, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh have more than 70 per cent of children utilizing its services, in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh the percent age is less than 40. Poor functioning of the ICDS is the prime reason for malnutrition among children up to the age of 6 years as also the cause for children receiving practically no preschool education.

Welfare economists across the world are unanimous that for a country to realize its potential and grow consistently, it is necessary for the nation to invest substantially in the health and education of its citizens specially children. Unfortunately, we still lack far behind in achieving the goal.

(The writer is the Secretary General of JD (U) and former Member of Parliament. And, the views expressed in the article are personal.)

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