All children deserve a beautiful childhood

Source: DNA Mumbai

Sixty-five years after Independence, millions of Indian children are yet to be freed from the bondage of malnutrition, child labour, lack of education and child abuse. Their wait to enjoy their childhood and realize their full potential seems to be getting longer with every passing anniversary of our Independence.

A look at where our children stand today leaves much to be desired. We cannot even claim to have provided bare minimum food, education and protection for millions of children during all these years of freedom. Unfortunately, the issues do not seem to figure as high on the national agenda as they should.

After 65 years of freedom, child malnutrition has assumed epidemic proportions. Almost every second child in India faces some level of malnourishment. Almost 40 per cent of Indian children are underweight, and 45 per cent are stunted due to malnourishment, according to the National Family Health Survey-3. The survey also reported that six out of every 10 children from the poorest households are stunted, and almost as many are underweight. Children from the SC and ST communities are also more likely to be malnourished, according to this report. The ministry of health and family welfare states that more than 55 per cent of the under-5 mortality occurs from complications resulting from malnutrition.

Neither has enough been done to make life easier for children who somehow survive malnutrition. They work in factories, handling hazardous chemicals, losing their childhood even before having a glimpse of it. Many are employed for household work in our cities and towns.

According to the NSSO’s 66th round survey (2009-10), there are 49.84 lakh child labourers across the country. About 13.3 per cent of children in the 10-18 age group are employed or engaged in some income earning activity. Of these, 42 per cent comprised casual wage workers and another 42 per cent were unpaid helpers in household enterprises.

Fortunately, millions of children now manage to go to school, thanks to the implementation of the Right to Education Act and several other schemes by government agencies and civil society. But ironically, this has led to more challenges.

Going to school may not be the most pleasant experience for a child in India. In fact, it is a nightmare especially if a child belongs to a marginalised section of the society.

Imagine children staying in school for eight hours without even a drop of drinking water, no toilets and in crowded classrooms where teachers teach two different classes of 80 to 100 students each. The growing number of enrolments which brings a smile to our faces doesn’t reveal these aspects.

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