Dr. Dharmakanta Kumbhakar
Children are the supreme assets of a nation. They are the greatest hope for the future of a nation. Every nation, developed or developing, links its future with the status of their children. The future of a nation rests on healthy, protected, educated and well-developed children. They are the potential and useful human resources for the progress of a nation. Ignoring or neglecting the children means wasting the supreme national asset and is a loss to the nation as a whole.
If children are deprived of their childhood—socially, economically, physically and mentally, the nation gets deprived of the potential human resources for social progress, economic empowerment, peace and order, social stability and good citizenry. As plants need protection, nourishment, and proper environment to grow into big fruit-bearing trees; children also need protection, promotion, nourishment, and proper environment to grow into useful and responsible citizens to serve the nation. Children of today cannot develop to be responsible and productive citizens of tomorrow unless an environment which is conducive to their social and physical health is assured to them. Therefore, they are to be provided with all necessary facilities and atmosphere to grow into responsible and useful citizens of the nation.
Realizing the importance of children in shaping the future of a nation, the lawmakers, both in the International forum as well as Indian forum, have always accorded privileged status to children. In 1959, the United Nations passed the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and in 1989, it had the Convention on the Rights of the Child ratified by India as well in 1992.
India has made good strides in uplifting the position of children. The Constitution of India guarantees equality before the law to all citizens and pledges special protections for children. In 1974, India adopted a National Policy for children and declared it a supreme national asset. India has a full-fledged ministry and numerous agencies engaged in child welfare work. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has been set up as a statutory body under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005 to protect, promote and defend child rights in India. The 86th Constitutional Amendment made education a fundamental right for children in the age group of 6 to 14 years. There are various Acts like ‘The Juvenile Justice Act, 1986’, ‘The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986’, ‘Protection of Children against Sexual Offense Act, 2012’ etc., to protect the child’s right in India.
India has 440 million children constituting 42% of India’s total population. As they are the supreme asset of our nation, they need appropriate attention and proper support to grow well to engage them usefully to serve the country. They are to be looked after and groomed well with great human touch and concern. We have both an obligation and duty towards them. We should remember and remind ourselves that it is only strong, knowledgeable and virtuous children who can make our country strong and great. Their holistic development should be of great concern – both in their interest and in the interest of the country.
Every child should receive services that support early childhood care and development. Children should have access to preventive, protective and curative services, ensuring good quality health needs, nutrition, education and universal immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases. They have to provide adequate housing and shelter; better public health services like safe drinking water, sanitation, environmental protection, combat hunger, and malnutrition by ensuring food security to families and nutritional security to children. They must receive the best education and nurture in order to ensure a better future for them. If we neglect and do not provide or meet the bare needs of food, health, and education of these children, heavy price will have to be paid in the future. If India is to live, children are to live well.
Every child in the country has a legitimate claim and is entitled to its share in the finances of the nation for harmonious and comprehensive development of his/her personality. There is a need to enhance the share in the budget for the development and welfare of children in their interest as well as in the interest of the country. Education must be our top priority. Government agencies need to increase investment in education. Spending money on the education of the child is not an expense on the public exchequer but an asset in the long run. Education of the child is inextricably intertwined with the progress of democracy. Democracy can succeed only with an informed citizenry. The education pattern, which must be applied not only at schools but also at homes, must be able to bring about character development, which will encourage the children to work hard and to be optimistic, competitive and tough. Inculcating noble values among children is crucial.
Children have to be protected against child labor, trafficking, communal and political violence, arms conflict, terrorist activities, migrant situations, all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and corporal punishment. The country needs effective legislation to punish and deter all forms of child labour, child abuse and exploitation, and child trafficking as well as prenatal sex determination, feticide, and infanticide. NGOs and administrators of government should reach out to the neglected, deprived and abused children for their comprehensive needs that include education, health aspects, protection, and rehabilitation.
In India, the problems of socially marginalized and economically-backward groups are immense, particularly amongst children in urban slums, street, and working children, children of construction workers, etc. They should be provided with safe shelter services, health care and opportunities for relevant education and vocational training. Orphanages and shelter homes are required to assist children without families.
Children should have access to contract services to help them in case of emergency or distress. The emergency toll-free phone service for children in distress (Child Line 1098) should be expanded and awareness needs to be generated about such helplines. Child protection services must reach the rural areas, where a large proportion of the population resides. The panchayat officials should be given responsibility for proper development of every child in their villages.