India has the largest number of children in the world; numbering 44.4 crores as per the 2011 census, they constitute 37 percent of the country’s population. Our leaders crow about ‘demographic dividend’ with nearly 60 percent people of working age, backed up by large numbers of youngsters waiting to take their place. But successive governments at the Centre and many states have invested little in the ‘future citizens’ of the country. The outcome of low budgetary allocations for children is that India also has the world’s highest number of malnourished children, child labor and children vulnerable to sexual offenses, a sad trend that Nobel peace laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi has taken strong issue against. So it is in the fitness of things that Satyarthi and other Nobel laureates like Dalai Lama, Tawakkol Karman, Leymah Gbowee and Jose Ramos-Horta, along with several world leaders, were witness to the launching of a major outreach programme for children from Rashtrapati Bhavan itself. Flagged off by President Prab Mukherjee, the ‘100 million for 100 million’ campaign which will call upon 100 million young people in different countries to learn about their rights and the lives of other children living in situations of conflict, exploitation and extreme poverty. The idea is that if a child-friendly world is at all to come about, there must be a bottom-up social initiative to induce top-down policy approach. The focus will be to bring about change in public opinion on issues of child labour, exploitation and child refugees. In his address, the President said that despite rapid economic development and advances in science and technology, there are still over 100 million children out of school, facing exploitation and denied a childhood. “Mankind must realise without any further delay that there can be no progress unless our children are safe and secure, unless they are provided freedom and the opportunity to become the agents of change,” he said.
While the President pointed out that it is only appropriate that the campaign begins from India having the largest population of youths in the world, it is a fact that recent developments in the country have not done justice to youngsters. By the Central government’s own admission in parliament recently, there are nearly a million vacant teaching posts in government-run primary and secondary schools, indicating the State’s gradual retreat from educatiol commitments despite the Right to Education Act. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, was amended this year, allowing children to work in ‘family enterprises’ and drastically pruning the list of banned jobs for children from 83 to three. This has opened the door proprietors of enterprises like eateries, factories, farms and brick kilns to pay off corrupt inspectors to get them certify child laborers as being related to them. So the situation in the country of 10.13 million child labourers and 99 million school dropouts is not going to improve anytime soon. And let us not forget, 5.5 million are child slaves in this country. More than half child laborers toiling away in our farms are exposed to pesticides and risk injury from dangerous implements, over a quarter work in dingy, poorly ventilated sweatshops, and many others spend punishing hours washing dishes and serving customers in hotels or as domestic helpers in private homes. Their total dependence on adults, lack of knowledge about their rights and lack of access to child support institutions opens the door to serious exploitation and abuses. Add to this other worrisome data like three out of every five children in India being malnourished, around 8.5 lakh children perishing before their first birthday every year, a child going missing in the country every 8 minutes, one in every three child brides in the world from India, crimes against children having increased five-fold in the last ten years — and what we get is a broad picture of much to do and far to go before India becomes a child-friendly country.