Children in India account for 39% of the entire population. This huge and significant number should naturally call for prioritization of children’s rights and interest. India with its initiatives like RTE (Right to Education Act), ICDS (Integrated child development scheme) and ICPS (Integrated child protection scheme) has tick marked all the boxes for child centric policies, laws and schemes. However despite these we have not been very successful in ensuring a safe and healthy childhood for all our children. So where and why are we lagging behind?
The answer lies as much in investment as it is on implementation. One cannot expect effective implementation of schemes if there isn’t enough financial inflow to cater to the core requirements – that of infrastructure and human resource. Despite the fact that our existing systems are already facing a massive challenge on both fronts, India has been allocating an average of just 4% of the Union Budget for its huge child population for the last fifteen years.
You may also like to watch
If we are to transform the lives of our children it is important to invest adequately in human resource, for they are the backbone that keep our delivery systems running. However a look at the status of personnel across critical areas of Education, Health, nutrition and protection paints a very worrying picture
Teachers are pivotal to the learning process. A well trained teacher greatly enhances student learning and keeps up their interest levels. According to the 2014 MHRD report there is a shortage of 9.4 lakh teachers in government schools. As a result there are still more than one lakh single teacher schools and about 50% of all schools are said to be functioning without a head teacher (DISE 2015-16).
You may also like to watch
Teacher shortage has several ramifications, one that puts children’s learning at risk. For one, it adversely impacts the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR). Teachers teaching in overcrowded classrooms struggle to give individual attention or teach effectively since energies are directed more towards maintaining decorum. When the teacher is not able to cope up with the same, it often leads to them using expression of power like corporal punishment rather than facilitation. Secondly it also leads to a situation where a teacher is forced to teach several classes at the same time. This hampers classroom discussion eliciting children participation as well as group activities both of which are crucial for their learning. Furthermore, first generation learners who may find it difficult to cope up with the pace of teaching as well as children who have challenges in learning may not get the additional attention that is required. In the long terms such children are often prone to falling behind and eventually dropping out of school
Poor learning outcome are a combination of several factors and lack of teachers is one of them. The recent ASER 2014 report while pointing to the deteriorating learning outcomes shocking concludes that half of all children studying in the class 5 have not yet learned the basic skills that they should have learnt by class 2. When learning is severely compromised how can we then expect our children to get a good education?
The huge dependence on contractual teachers to counter the acute teacher shortage is not really the ideal solution. In fact it can do more damage than good, since contract teachers are poorly paid, have no job security.
Teachers are the cornerstone of education and investing in them and supporting their learning’s are the keys to improving our schools and ensuring meaningful education of our children
Health and Nutrition
For the youngest of our children, ICDS remains the most significant support scheme which provides basic health care as well as preschool education for children.
According to the latest ICDS data, 14,673 posts of Anganwadi Supervisor, 62,970 posts of Anganwadi Workers and 1,18,609 posts of Anganwadi helpers were still vacant. Additionally there is also a shortage of 3000 child development project officer (CPDO) and more than 14000 supervisors.
It is an indisputable fact that early care and learning is extremely important for a child’s overall development. Anganwadi workers are the ground workers who ensure healthy growth of children through regular nutrition and vaccination. They also play a critical role in identifying malnourished children and ensuring timely interventions like specific parent counseling, focused diet or referring them to NRC(Nutrition Rehabilitation Centers) if need be. Besides this, they also impart early education to children. Early education helps develop basic skills and knowledge and prepares children for schooling with the right attitude and habits.
In order to provide the five services stipulated by ICDS, Anganwadi workers have to often multitask and co-ordinate with health workers, children, pregnant and lactating mothers as well as communities at large. Given the lack of awareness and support structure for marginalized people the role of Anganwadi workers therefore becomes very critical in ensuring that the benefits of the scheme reach the children who need it the most. Not having the required support staff can add tremendous amount of pressure that can affect their work.
The ICDS scheme despite its huge relevance has several limitations. In its present status, the scheme is able to cover only about 50 percent children under the age of six. Additionally about 18 lakh children are devoid of the scheme because of the unfilled vacancies. The need for an extra Anganwadi worker, though accepted in the restructured ICDS is still to be implemented on ground. Despite these challenges and the clear need for greater outreach, the budgetary allocation for ICDS has seen a steady decline in the last three years
Even public health centers, both rural and urban are grappling with a huge human resource crisis – both in terms of vacancies and shortfalls, which is affecting the delivery of services. With about ten lakh children dying in the country within the first year of birth, health centers have a very vital role in providing a safety net for children especially newborns.
Auxilliary nurse maids (ANM) are the first point of contact for pregnant women and infants in terms of institutional care. However more than 20,000 posts for ANM’s are lying vacant in the rural system with more than 5000 sub centers functioning without ANM’s or male health workers. The absence of health workers severely affects the pre natal and post natal care of both the mother and the infant, both of which are important for their survival and well being
Similarly more than 9000 posts for doctors and close to 8000 posts for Specialists (gynaec, obstreticians, pediatrician, surgeon, obstreticians) are lying vacant in the rural health centers. Specialists’ shortage poses a significant challenge to families who often have to travel long distances to seek specialized care for their children. Denial of appropriate and timely treatment can not only be life threatening for the child but can also have an adverse impact on people’s health seeking behavior and their faith in public institutions
If we look at the entire framework of protection, both in term of laws and schemes, human resource has been either honorary or contractual in nature. For example, all positions within ICPS including that of District child protection officer, who plays a critical role in strengthening child protection at family and community level, are contractual and inadequately salaried. This has often been a major reason for high levels of attrition. At CRY, working with children and communities over three decades, we have seen the multiple impacts that these frequent and sudden exits can have on the state of protection for children. The delays in filling up the vacancies further affect the continuity and consistency of the outreach efforts.
Even Child welfare commissions (CWC) and Juvenile Justice Boards (JJB), which are important pillars of protection for children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with law, have honorary positions
Vulnerable children need timely intervention, reform and rehabilitation. Dedicated human resource therefore is an important pre requisite.
Investing in children should not be merely seen as a moral obligation. Children are our greatest asset, the rock on which our future will be built. Breaking the cycle of disadvantage in early years will have significant long term social and economic benefits in terms of reducing poverty, income inequality and social exclusion. Schemes for children should therefore have a sound financial backing not just for its effective implementation but also for the health of the nation.
(The article has been written by Puja Marwaha, CEO of Child Rights and You. All the views expressed are personal)