Disappointing trend: Paltry amounts of educational scholarships for children from marginalized groups

budgetchild

A CRY (Child Rights and You) analysis on what is stored for children in the Interim Union Budget 2019-20:

Budget for Children as a proportion of the Union Budget (interim) 2019-20 has shown a nominal increase from 3.24 percent to 3.25 percent. In absolute numbers the increase amounts to Rs. 9,358 crores, i.e., from Rs. 81,235.63 crores in 2018-19 (RE) to Rs. 90,594.25 crores in 2019-20 (BE) (0.02%).

The composition of child rights thematic areas viz Education, Development, Health and Child Protection remained almost constant, with slight variations. The share of education sector declined slightly. This shows the continuation of a gradual trend wherein the budget for children, overall skewed heavily towards education, has been reducing slightly with gradual increase in allocations of other areas.

Child protection on the other hand continued its upward trend as visible over the past few years. At 2.14%, this is the first time the sector was clear of the limit of 2% of child budget.

Education

The education component continues to dominate over other thematic areas of Budget for Children. Over the years though, there is a clear but gradual decline in its share, from almost 79% in 2015-16 (BE) to 68.25% in 2019-20 (BE). In June 2018, Ministry of Human Resource Development announced the launch of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan or the Integrated Scheme for School Education with a view to consolidate and bring under one umbrella all schemes from pre-school to matriculation.

Accordingly, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and Teachers’ Education are to be included under this scheme and implemented under one administrative structure hereafter. Through this exercise the Government is planning to move towards composite schools envisaging some gains in doing the same.

The budget allocation for the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan is Rs 75,000 crores – a 20 per cent increase from the current allocation – for the period of April 1, 2018, to March 31, 2020. A close look at the Statement of Department of School Education and Literacy indicates the other mechanisms adopted to support school education.

In recent years, especially in the context of education, Government has attempted to make use of other recoveries, such as Basic and Secondary Education Cess to find the resources for the burgeoning needs of the education component.

This includes various options such as Prarambhik Shiksha Kosh, Madhyamik and Uchhatar Shiksha Kosh (MUSK), National Investment Fund, and Central Road and Infrastructure Fund (CRIF). In the meantime, gross budgetary support, or the Government’s own share of financial resources pumped into the school education sector have been reducing.

Yet, for all the attention given to system consolidation, improved learning outcomes, and better monitoring and performance, the question of universalizing of education, especially secondary education still remains. Especially at higher levels, it is the students from impoverished, marginalized and remote background that are often unable to continue education.

Even given the paltry amounts of educational scholarships, the need to support children from the most marginalized groups in their quest for education has remained an important aspect of social equity in India. The trend, however, continues to disappoint. For yet another year, allocations for both pre- and post-matric scholarships have either remained stagnant or in fact reduced.

In the last financial budget, a semblance of positivity in context of improving educational equity was provided through the announcement that each block with predominance of tribal population (more than 50 percent populace to be ST) and at least 20,000 residents would see the setting up of dedicated Eklavya Model Residential Schools.

However, a scrutiny of the Statement of Expenditure by Ministry of Tribal Affairs shows zero allocations in last year’s budget and an insignificant allocation of 0.3 crores under the current interim budget.

Health

For the last two years, discourse on health in India has been largely around the ambitious health care insurance programme, initially also known as modicare and later on, Ayushman Bharat. Yet, the scheme’s implementation has been stymied by the unwillingness of states such as Delhi, Punjab, Telangana, Kerala, and Odisha to opt in.

The Rs. 6,400 crore financial allocations for the Ayushman Bharat scheme eclipses the complete child health budget including immunization, reproductive and child health care, adolescent health and education components etc.

Though health for all is one of the vision dimension of the government but decrease in child health budget has been estimated at almost o.5%, i.e. from 3.9 to 3.41%, indicating that the decline is more in terms of stagnating levels of allocation over the year, and the depressing lack of priority to the investment needed in child health and well-being that has sadly never been the case in recent times.

Nutrition and ICDS services

The strategy and direction adopted via the multi-stakeholder convergence seen in the first year of the recent Poshan Abhiyan has been most encouraging. Through ensuring involvement of District Collectors in 113 high – risk districts and attempt to build synergies of multiple departments such as water and sanitation, health and family welfare, women and child development on the ground, the Abhiyan has surely ensured high visibility of actions.

The innovative edge has been realized through pilots for new and emerging technologies, digitization of nutritional data, use of real – time monitoring and also conditional cash transfer (specifically in context of take home ration). The announcement in the interim budget on a 50 percent increase in the honorarium for both Anganwadi workers (all categories) and ASHA workers ought to induce much needed positivity and improved accountability. Increased stress on monitoring and governance may not be enough to create a malnutrition free India.

No technology or monitoring can replace the impact of face – to – face interaction by ground based functionaries. Frontline service providers are important because of their presence at the grassroots and their direct responsibility in delivering services to the beneficiaries. However, there are huge vacancies of teachers, Anganwadi workers and health workers.

About 20-30 percent of the positions in AWCs are vacant according to the report of the department related parliamentary standing committee. Similarly, since the inception of SSA, 19.46 lakh posts of additional teachers have been sanctioned to maintain the appropriate pupil teacher ratio of 40:1 for primary schools and 35:1 for upper primary schools as per the norms provided in the Right of the Child to free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009.

However, out of these, 15.75 lakh teachers have been recruited by States and UTs and 3.71 lakh posts of teachers are vacant as on 31.12.2016. In the Interim Budget 2019-20, the ICDS scheme has seen a 19% increase over last year’s estimate (see below). However, given the multiple demands upon the ICDS system, including esp. the increase in honorarium across all workers, even this substantial increase may not be adequate to meet the expectations.

This also means that not enough has been envisaged into the other core objective of ICDS scheme, which is pre – school education, wherein the ICDS scheme covers a substantial percentage of India’s youngest children.

With the increase in honorarium, it is in fact too early to make any statement about whether this will help attract better qualified and motivated functionaries at the grassroot level, it does raise the question of providing training to the existing cadre, esp. on newer technologies, data management and safekeeping, as also behaviour change communication, especially with different targeted beneficiaries such as pregnant women, adolescent girls, young children, and even adolescent boys and men.

The complete range of services that are expected to be provided by Anganwadis include supplementary nutrition; pre-school nonformal education; nutrition and health education; immunization; health check-up; and referral services. Apart from this, inventory management, food safety and risk management are related aspects which are emerging as highly crucial.

Each of these require ground level functionaries to be technically equipped and able to reach out to other service providers esp. health personnel, water and sanitation, Panchayati Raj and Rural Development among others.

Child protection

The child protection system in India at present is highly reactive and symptomatic, responding only once a violation has already taken place and the child victimized. There is little scope in design and programs which is focussed towards prevention aspects. In addition, the architecture and provisions of laws are also structurally insufficient to ensure implementation. The interim budget has attempted to make a positive shift through substantial increase in allocation for child protection services from Rs. 725 crores in 2018-19 (Budget estimates) to Rs. 1500 crores in Interim Budget 2019-20 (an increase of 106%).

There is 16% reduction in Budgets for National Child Labour Project over last year. Looking the recent amendments in the child labour legislation and changing definition of child and adolescent in the same, it is important to note that there is still dearth of knowledge with respect to family based occupation and there are implementation challenges in keeping off 15-18 years away from hazardous occupations and processes.

Child care institutions (CCIs) are considered as the last possible resort for safety and shelter for any child and the least desirable for long term or permanent placement. Recent events, esp. the gruesome incidents in a shelter home at Muzaffarpur (and earlier incidents in 2016) and the nation-wide mapping survey of standards of care at child care institutions across India have highlighted the sorry state of affairs therein.

It is well known that child protection services and institutions in India continue to be heavily reliant on government funding, esp. when it comes to both physical infrastructure and well – trained staff. This is especially true for institutions in remote areas and districts where professionally qualified staff, esp. counsellors, superintendents, and case workers remain very hard to find.

Yet, children are most vulnerable when they enter such institutions, often having gone through extensive trauma, neglect, violence, or stressful circumstances. They are devoid of the protective family net and often find themselves trapped, unheard, and forgotten.

At the same time, let us not jump to the conclusion that neglect or abuse of children takes place in child care institutions only. In fact, these incidents have highlighted the omnipresent nature of violence against children – whether in schools, at home, or in public spaces, both urban and rural.

We do not want them to be victims of preventable hazards, such as fires in a school with no exit plan, or unattended electricity wires, or stalkers and paedophiles looking for their next target. We want them to remain innocent, in the face of an increasingly predatory world, both in the physical and virtual realm.


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