India is home to almost 19% of the world’s children. More than one third of the country’s population, around 440 million, is below 18 years. India’s children are India’s future, as the strength of the nation lies in a healthy, protected, educated and well-developed child population that will grow up to be the productive citizens of the country. India must invest resources in children proportionate to their huge numbers.
An exercise on child budgeting carried out by the Ministry of Women and Child Development revealed that total expenditure on children in 2005-2006 in health, education, development and protection together amounted to a mere 3.86%, rising to 4.91% in 2006-07. However, the share of resources for child protection was an abysmal low of 0.034% in 2005-06 and it remained the same in 2006-07.
It is estimated that around 170 million, or 40 per cent, of India’s children are vulnerable to or experiencing difficult circumstances. There is, therefore, an urgent case for increasing expenditure on child protection so that the rights of the children of India are protected. The neglect of child protection issues results in outright violation of the rights of the children and increases their vulnerability to abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The Constitution of India recognises the vulnerable position of children and their right to protection. Article 15 the Constitution guarantees special attention to children through necessary and special laws and policies that safeguard their rights. The right to equality, protection of life and personal liberty and the right against exploitation are enshrined in Articles 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 23 and 24.
Child rights and welfare concerns have been addressed in a number of International Conventions and Standards on child protection including the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 1989, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules) 1985, the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty 1990, and the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption 1993.
The Government of India ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1992. The Convention prescribes standards to be adhered to by all state parties in securing the best interest of the child. It emphasises social reintegration of child victims, without resorting to judicial proceedings. The UNCRC outlines the fundamental rights of children, including the right to be protected from economic exploitation and harmful work, from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, and from physical or mental violence, as well as ensuring that children will not be separated from their families against their will.
India has adopted a number of laws and formulated a range of policies to ensure the protection of children and improvement in their situation, including the Guardian and Wards Act 1890, Factories Act 1948, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956, Probation of Offenders Act 1958, Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1959, Orphanages and Other Charitable Homes (Supervision and Control) Act 1960, National Policy for Children 1974, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976, Child Marriage and Restraint Act 1979, Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1986, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, National Policy on Education 1986, Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1987, National Policy on Child Labour 1987, Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 1992, National Nutrition Policy 1993, Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act 1994, Persons with Disabilities (Equal Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 2000, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000, National Health Policy 2002, National Charter for Children 2004, National Plan of Action for Children 2005 and Commissions for Protection of the Rights of the Child, 2005.
However, these laws and policies promising respect for child rights, their protection and well being have not resulted in much improvement in the lives of millions of Indian children who continue to be deprived of their rights, abused, exploited and taken away from their families and communities. Scant attention and feeble commitment to resolving child protection problems have resulted in poor implementation of these laws and policies, meagre resources, minimal infrastructure, inadequate services in variety, quantity and quality, and inadequate monitoring and evaluation.
‘Child protection’ is about protecting children from or against any perceived or real danger or risk to their life, their personhood and childhood. It is about reducing their vulnerability to any kind of harm and protecting them in harmful situations. It is about ensuring that no child falls out of the social security and safety net and that those who do fall through receive the necessary care, protection and support so as to bring them back into the safety net.
While protection is a right of every child, some children are more vulnerable than others and need special attention. The government recognises these children as ‘children in difficult circumstances’, characterised by their specific social, economic and geo-political situations. In addition to providing a safe environment for these children, it is imperative to ensure that all other children also remain protected.
Child protection is integrally linked to every other right of the child. Failure to ensure children’s right to protection adversely affects all other rights of the child. Thus, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) cannot be achieved unless child protection is an integral part of programmes, strategies and plans for their achievement. Failure to protect children from issues such as violence in schools, child labour, harmful traditional practices, child marriage, child abuse, the absence of parental care and commercial sexual exploitation among others, means failure in fulfilling both the constitutional and international commitments towards children.
In the light of its expanded mandate, the new Ministry of Women and Child Development views child protection as an essential component of the country’s strategy to place development of the child at the centre of the Eleventh Plan. Violations of the child’s right to protection, in addition to being human rights violations, are massive, under-recognised and under-reported obstacles to child survival and development. Failure to protect children has serious consequences for the physical, mental, emotional and social development of the child, with consequences of a loss in productivity and quality of human capital for the nation.
The National Plan of Action for Children 2005 articulates the rights agenda for the development of children. The NPAC 2005 is the basis for planning for children in the Eleventh Plan in all sectors and the principles articulated in it should guide the planning and investments for children. Such a comprehensive approach to child protection is required if India is to achieve Millennium Development Goals. It is also required that all budgets for child protection services should be in the plan category and not in the non-plan category.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development is committed to creating a solid foundation for a protective environment for children. The Ministry will strengthen prevention of the violation of children’s rights, enhance the infrastructure for protection services, increase access to a wider range and better quality of services, increase investment in child protection and raise awareness of children’s rights and their violation and the situation of India’s children.
National Mechanisms: the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS)
In 2006 the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) proposed the adoption of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS). In 2009 the central government gave the scheme its approval and has begun the extensive task of providing children with a protection and safe environment to develop and flourish. The purpose of the scheme is to provide for children in difficult circumstances, as well as to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities which children experience in various situations and actions that lead to abuse, neglect, exploitation, abandonment and separation of children.
The specific objectives of the scheme are:
- To institutionalise essential services and strengthen structures
- To enhance capacities of all systems and persons involved in service delivery
- To create a database and knowledge base for child protection services
- To strengthen child protection at family and community level
- To coordinate and network with government institutions and non-government institutions to ensure effective implementation of the scheme
- To raise public awareness about children’s rights, child vulnerability and child protection services.
According to the understanding of the Government of India and civil society organisations, the definition of vulnerable children and their problems and related issues are as follows.
The term vulnerable children refer to an age group that is considered at risk. All children due to their age are considered to be at risk for exploitation, abuse, violence and neglect.
But vulnerability cannot be defined simply by age. Though age is one component, vulnerability is also measured by the child’s capability for self-protection. The question that arises is whether children are capable of protecting themselves. Can children provide for their basic needs, defend against a dangerous situation or even recognise a dangerous situation is developing?
These questions call for a redefinition of the concept of self-protection. A child’s vulnerability comes from various factors that hinder a child’s ability to function and grow normally. Hence self-protection is more about the ability of the child to lead a healthy life within a child protection system and their ability to protect themselves or get help from people who can provide protection. But vulnerability of children is further compounded by the following factors:
- Age within age: younger children, especially those below the age of six, are much more dependent on the protection system.
- Physical disabilities
- Mental disabilities
- Provocative behaviours: due to ignorance or misunderstanding of children’s mental health or behavioural problems, some people can become irritated or frustrated and hence lash out against children or neglect them completely.
- Powerlessness arising from the situations and people that surround the children. If children are given the power by the state, family or community to participate and fulfil their own rights and responsibilities they are less vulnerable.
- Defencelessness arising from the lack of protection provided by the state or parents or community. If there is no child abuse law, then how is a child suppose to defend himself/herself against abuse?
- Passivity due to situation or treatment of the child. For example, a child who is enslaved or oppressed does not have the ability to seek help or protection.
- Invisibility of children who the system fails even to recognise as highly vulnerable.
The Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), like the Juvenile Justice Act 2000, defines vulnerability in two categories: children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with law.
A child in need of care and protection is defined as a child who :
- Does not have a home or shelter and no means to obtain such an abode.
- Resides with a person(s) who has threatened to harm them and is likely to carry out that threat or who has harmed other children and hence is likely to kill, abuse or neglect the child.
- Is mentally or physically handicapped, or has an illness, terminal or incurable disease and has no one to provide and care for him/her.
- Has a parent or guardian deemed unfit or unable to take care of the child.
- Is an orphan, has no family to take care of him/her, or is a runaway or missing child whose parents cannot be located after a reasonable search period.
- Is being or is likely to be sexual, mentally, emotionally or physically abused, tortured or exploited.
- Is being trafficked or abusing drug substances.
- Is being abused for unthinkable gains or illegal activities.
- Is a victim of arm conflict, civil unrest or a natural disaster.
Children in conflict with law are juveniles who have allegedly committed a crime under the Indian Penal Code. The ICPS also recognises a third category of children: children in contact with law. These children are victims of or witnesses to crimes. ICPS lastly outlines that vulnerable children groups also include but are not limited to the following: “children of potentially vulnerable families and families at risk, children of socially excluded groups like migrant families, families living in extreme poverty, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes, families subjected to or affected by discrimination, minorities, children infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS, orphans, child drug abusers, children of substance abusers, child beggars, trafficked or sexually exploited children, children of prisoners, and street and working children”.
UNICEF views vulnerable children as those who are abused, exploited, and neglected. Child protection is derived out of the duty to respond to the needs of vulnerable groups of children. UNICEF outlines the following groups as vulnerable:
- Children subjected to violence,
- Children in the midst of armed conflict,
- Children associated with armed groups,
- Children affected by HIV/AIDS,
- Children without birth registration,
- Children engaged in labour,
- Child engaged in marriage,
- Children in Conflict with the Law,
- Children without Parental Care,
- Children used for commercial sexual exploitation,
- Female children subjected to genital mutilation / cutting, and
- Trafficked children.
Each of these groups and other protection issues is discussed in the next section.
Vulnerable Children: Related Issues
The vulnerability of children leads to, and is further created by, the socio-cultural, socio-political and socio-religious situations they are in. A child who is forced or born into a situation or discriminated group is at risk for abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The lack of a protection system either due to mis-implementation of national laws and programmes or the absence of protection policies and legislation also renders children vulnerable. Following is a discussion of various protection issues concerning children.
- Abuse and Violence
- Street Children
- Children Living with AIDS
- Child in Armed Conflict
- Girl Child
- Child Marriage
- Children with Disabilities
- Children affected by Substance Abuse
- Birth Registration
- Missing Children
- Children in Conflict with Law
- Child Labour
- Child Trafficking
- Children without Parental care
- Child Health and Nutrition
- Early Childhood (Children below six)
- Children of Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe Families
- Children in Poverty
Within care, support and rehabilitation services the scheme will also provide CHILDLINE services, open shelters for children in need in urban and semi-urban areas, offer family-based solutions through improving sponsorship, foster-care, adoption and after-care services, improve quality institutional services, and general grant-in-aid for needs-based innovative interventions. Within statutory support services the scheme calls for the strengthening of CWCs, JJBs, SJPUs, as well as seeing to the set-up of these services in each district. Beyond this ICPS also outlines the need for human resource development for strengthening counselling services, training and capacity-building, strengthening the knowledge-base, conduct research studies, create and manage a child tracking system, carry out advocacy and public education programmes, and monitoring and evaluation of the scheme.
In order to ensure the objectives and approaches of ICPS are met, the scheme also calls for the establishment of new bodies within a service delivery structure.
At the district level there would be :
- District Child Protection Society (DCPS)
- District Child Protection Committee (DCPC)
- Sponsorship and Foster Care Approval Committee (SFCAC)
- Block Level Child Protection Committee
- Village Level Child Protection Committee
At the state level there would be:
- State Child Protection Society (SCPS)
- State Adoption Resource Agency (SARA)
- State Child Protection Committee (SCPC)
- State Adoption Advisory Committee
At the regional level there would be:
- Child Protection Division in the four Regional Centres of National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD)
- Four Regional Centres of CHILDLINE India Foundation (CIF)
And lastly at the national level there would be:
- CHILDLINE India Foundation- Headquarters
- Child Protection Division in the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD)
- Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA)
The scheme outlines a specific implementation plan. It discusses the need for the convergence of services to give the child the integrated plan. This would be achieved through the co-ordination of all departments and ministries of the union and state governments and civil society organisations involved with the children.
Implementing the Plans
However, in conclusion it should be mentioned here that the scheme is finally formulated by the government of India with some participations of the civil society organisations. But we, on behalf of the LAMP (a national-level Child Welfare Award winning organisation of India) opine that the leadership of implementing the said scheme must be provided by the grassroots level organisations of the children especially at risk themselves, which would lead to the subjective and active participation and empowerment of the children.
In this context, civil society organisations must ensure active involvement of the children especially at risk by giving emphasis to “greater participation of the children in their own well-being”.
This is a new direction for child-centred upbringing in modern urban settings and today we, on behalf of the LAMP have been successfully practising developmental methods to empower children at risk in Kolkata under their own leadership (Shishu Jagat), for their integrated care, protection and development programmes.
The promise of the integrated development and empowerment of children at risk under their own leadership has been put into practice with many successful outputs.
Thus LAMP has been successfully practising developmental method of children’s active and full participation and leadership in their care, protection and development programmes, under the leadership of the Shishu Jaga.
The promise of children’s active participation and leadership in undertaking their situational analysis, integrated care, protection, development and empowerment, facilitated by the LAMP, has been successfully creating socio-educational, cultural and political space for children at risk, which may be replicated anywhere in the World.
Malay Dewanji is Honorary General Secretary of LAMP, India, and President of FICE – India.
Source: Government of India Websites,
Presented at the FICE Congress 2010, from 7th to 10th December, 2010, held at Stellenbosch Town Hall, Stellenbosch , Western Cape , South Africa, by Shri Malay Dewanji, Hony. General Secretary, LAMP and President, FICE-INDIA. Email: [email protected] // [email protected]
For more information please contact –
LIBERAL ASSOCIATION FOR MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE (LAMP)
66, Surya Sen Street, Kolkata – 700 009, INDIA.
( +91-33-2241-8496/7469 Fax: +91-33-2257-2966)