By Mahender Jethmalani*
To reaffirm the government’s commitment to the rights-based approach in addressing continuous and emerging challenges of children, the Government of India adopted a National Policy for Children in 2013. Its preamble recognizes that a child is any person below the age of 18 years. It underlines that childhood is an integral part of life with a value of its own; that children are not a homogenous group and their different needs need different responses; that they experience multi‐dimensional vulnerabilities in different circumstances; and that a long-term, sustainable, multi‐sectoral, integrated and inclusive approach is necessary for the overall and harmonious development and protection of children.
Through this policy, the Government of India committed itself for affirmative measures in order to undertake legislative and policy measures to promote and safeguard the rights of children to live and grow with equity, dignity, security and freedom. The policy especially addresses the needs of marginalized or disadvantaged children with the aim of ensuring that all children have equal opportunity, insisting that no custom, tradition, cultural or religious practice should violate, restrict or prevent children from enjoying their rights.
In Gujarat, children under 18 constitute around 36.75 per cent (2.22 crore) of the population – 1.18 crore males (53.33 per cent) and 1.04 crore females (46.67 per cent). National and state governments are duty bound for creating conducive conditions for child development. A budget analysis of financial provisions made for children can help assist in determining the government’s commitment to future generation. It is a concrete expression of the government’s intent, its policies and priorities, and its decisions and performance. It is essentially a political, rather than a technical, instrument.
Several Indian laws, programmes and schemes – at national and state levels – address the needs of children up to 18. As per the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in consonance with the definition of a child in the juvenile justice Act, 2000 of India, the child is an individual up to the age of 18 years.
This study has selected schemes, programmes, budget allocations and expenditures for children up to the age of 18. There are 12 departments contributing to schemes or programmes catering to the needs of children. A major portion of expenditure for children is through the education department – this is the expenditure incurred for school education. Data of the last three years of 12 departments suggest that the total budgetary expenditure (accounts) in 2012‐13 for children was Rs 16,976.42 crore. The revised estimate for 2013‐14 was Rs19,717.85 crore. And, the estimate for the current financial year (2014‐15) is Rs 25,210.93 crore.
Budget for Children (BfC) in Gujarat
The budget for children (BfC) as percentage of the Gujarat’s total budget comes 19.73 per cent in 2012-13, 18.11 per cent in 2013-14, and 18.89 per cent in 2014-15. This is against 36.75 per cent of the child population up to the age of 18. The percentage of BfC out of the total outlay under social services was 47.64 per cent in 2012‐13, 49.15 per cent in 2013-14, and 48.91 per cent in 2014-15. Following the implementation of the right to education (RTE) Act, the expenditure for addressing the educational needs has gone up. Pathey Trust’s earlier study on BfC had found that the state’s total budget was between 11 and 14 per cent from 2009‐10 to 2011‐12. This it has now reached 18-19 per cent.
The budget for children through sectoral lenses reveals the priorities of the state for children. In 2014‐15, around 73.88 per cent of the total BfC goes to the education of children, while rest is for other expenses, including nutrition, midday meal, support services to education like scholarship and other types of assistance like hostel facilities, and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). Healthcare services account for just 2.44 per cent of the BfC, or Rs 614.12 crore. This includes health services for children and mothers of new born babies. The percentage share for protection is much less, a meagre Rs 26.06 crore (0.10 per cent), though it includes such important components like implementation of the juvenile justice Act and prevention of child labour Act. The home department is supposed to play a major role in the protection of children. Yet, its budget has no specific budgetary head or item to indicate allocation for children.
Issues needing urgent attention
Malnourishment: Malnourishment among children is very high despite the state’s efforts to mitigate the problem. As per the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report of 2011‐12, the state has fewer ICDS centres (anganwadis) than those sanctioned. The state needs to invest more budgetary outlays for creating ICDS centres in backward and interior areas to provideICDS services to schedule tribe children, and the children in desert areas of Kutch, Banaskantha and Surendranagar districts.
The CAG report has observed: “Against the requirements of 75,480 anganwadi centres (AWCs), 52,137 (69 per cent) AWCs were sanctioned and 50,225 AWCs were in operation in the state; thereby a population of 1.87 crore was deprived of the benefits of ICDS. Though the Government of India directed (November 2008) the state government to submit proposal for additional projects based on revised population criteria, no proposal was forwarded by the State Government.” Around 31.46 per cent children are found to be malnourished – they have less than normal weight.
Crimes against children: Data suggest that crimes against children are increasing, be it rape of girl child, or kidnapping for various reasons. There were 1,131 incidents of crimes against children 2011, which increased to 1,327 in 2012.
Infant mortality rate: Infant mortality rate (IMR) in the state is 38 per 1000 live births, according to the latest report of the SRS (Sample Registration System) of September 2013. Gujarat’s IMR is less than the national average of 42 per 1000 live births, but is higher than several developed states like Kerala (12), Tamil Nandu (21), Maharashtra (25) and Karnataka (32). In Gujarat, female IMR is 39, which is eight less than the male IMR (31).
Gunotsav: The state’s education department has launched an innovative programme of evaluating school education, Gunotsav, to assess the quality of education. The idea of the programme is to bring about awareness among teachers as also society at large for upgrading the quality education. Its aims also include the need to address gaps in achieving learning outcomes and to knowledge achievement; to assess teaching-learning processes for quality-based classrooms interaction; and to build an environment of accountability for outcome-oriented performance.
Results of Gunotsav 2013 (self-evaluation conducted on April 12, 2013) are available only for grading of schools on the basis of three criteria — 20 per cent for co-curricular activities, 20 per cent for public-private participation and use of resources, and 60 per cent for educational activities. As per the report, there were 113 schools in Grade A+ category (0.33 per cent), followed by 6,336 schools in Grade A (18.54 per cent) out of 34,177 schools. Majority of the state’s schools fall in Grade B, around 60 per cent (20,241). About 16 per cent schools are in Grade C and 6 per cent in Grade D. The education department needs to put in strong efforts for improving the quality of education, as 60 per cent of schools are in Grade B and another 22 per cent schools in Grades C and D. To ensure quality education with equity for every child, school education must improve at all levels.
- The Union government should make amendments in bringing the child’s age up to 18 years in Prevention of Child Labour act as per the National policy for Children 2013. The amendment should make employing child below 18 year an offence.
- The Union government should amend the RTE Act and encompass right to education up to 18 years, as per the National Policy for Children 2013. The amendment would facilitate children acquiring education and skills in the post-primary school period, and also continue higher secondary education.
- The state government should make substantial budget outlay for the protection of children in order to eradicate child labour practices and provide better services to abandoned children.
- There should be more budget outlay for healthcare to children below six years at ICDS centres. There should be special provision for providing healthcare services to children of migrant workers at construction sites, in sugarcane fields, in saltpans and in the coastal regions.
- The protection services’ outreach should be augmented up to the taluka (block) level.
- ICDS centres should be established as per the 2011 population. As pointed out by the CAG report, there are less ICDS centres in Gujarat than required. Nutritional food quality should be properly managed and parents should be involved in monitoring ICDS services.
- Midday meal should be provided to coverage more children. Currently, only 50 per cent of the school going children out of 83 lakh at the primary level are availing the benefit.
- Per child expenditure for midday meal should be enhance substantially looking at prevailing food inflation, so that school children have quality nutritional food.
- Healthcare services in rural areas should be improved with pediatric care at primary health centres and community health centres. There should be collaborative efforts with private hospitals for providing pediatric care to children. The government should bear the cost.
- Gujarat is behind several states in educational index. The state must provide quality education to every child. It must enhance the budgetary outlay for primary, secondary and higher secondary education. Currently, it is Rs 12,750.98 crore for primary education, and Rs 4,520.53 crore for secondary and higher secondary education. The total budgetary outlay in 2014-15 for primary and secondary and higher secondary education is Rs 17,271.15 crore out of the state’s total budgetary outlay of Rs 1,33,465.61 crore. In percentage term it comes to 12.94 per cent, which needs to be enhanced gradually 15 to 20 per cent. The budget outlay for primary education in percentage term is just 9.55 per cent.
- The state government should issue child budget statement to enhance budget transparency for children so that citizens can participate in debates for child budgeting.
*Pathey Budget Centre, Ahmedabad