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Children Are Central To Upholding The Constitution, But We're Letting Them Down

28/01/2016 12:35 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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RAJASTHAN, INDIA - 2016/01/25: Indian first step school children paint the tricolor of Indian flag on their face and raise the National Flag on the eve of republic day celebrations in Rajasthan, India. (Photo by Shaukat Ahmed/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

"WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA... HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION."

The Preamble to the Constitution of India defines aptly the fundamental principles of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The Constitution guarantees each one of us these ideals, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.

Our forefathers had a vision to create a republic that guaranteed these constitutional fundamentals to the citizen while also laying down the directive principles of state policy to ensure the functioning of a robust democratic republic and a welfare state.

Our Constitution guaranteed Equality and Protection of Life and Liberty, including the Right to Life with Dignity and a Right against Exploitation. Among the most notable manifestations of these principles were abolishment of untouchability under Article 17, and prohibition of traffic of human beings under Article 23, where a violation of these was made punishable by law. Moreover, Article 24 prohibited the employment of children in hazardous occupations while Article 45 directed the state to provide (within 10 years of commencement of the Constitution) free and compulsory education to all children.

In order to ensure holistic development, we need to guarantee that the fundamental rights of Protection, Education and Health of children are not breached.

Our failure in ensuring this means that our daughters are unsafe even before they are born, and at least 43.5 lakh children are being exploited as cheap labour every day. Today, we rank a distressing 135th on the Human Development Index. It is appalling and inexcusable to see that the largest democracy in the world struggles to reach even a mediocre level of human development.

The last 69 years have seen India go from strength to strength in many areas. However, we as a society still have miles to go before we are able to provide protection to our vulnerable sections, especially women and children. As we set foot in the 66th year of sovereignty, a very simple question needs to be answered. Where did we fail and how can we take steps for the collective development of the nation? In order to ensure holistic development, we need to guarantee that the fundamental rights of Protection, Education and Health of children are not breached.

When a girl gets trafficked, the constitutional assurance of Equality, Equity and Liberty is ridiculed by traffickers.

Friends, when a girl gets trafficked, the constitutional assurance of Equality, Equity and Liberty is ridiculed by traffickers. Illiteracy breeds poverty and poverty breeds vulnerability; each is a cause of another and part of the same vicious circle of exploitation. Traffickers and other exploiters take advantage of the socio-economic conditions and these vulnerabilities by convincing (and often, scamming) guardians into sending their children into the flesh trade or forced and bonded labour. The single-most effective means of combating this heinous offence is eradicating illiteracy through wide-spread and meaningful education.

Although significant progress has been made towards achieving the goal of universal, equitable and quality education defined in the Right to Education Act (Article 21A), critical challenges continue to remain in the form of gaps at the policy and implementation levels. We need to set a benchmark for quality of teachers and their education in order to reduce the prevalent number of drop outs. There should be more comprehensible and strict provisions for academic support. Also, no standards have been set for monitoring and measuring learning outcomes -- which is a sad case of promising graduation but not education.

A robust monitoring authority has been formed to successfully tackle the issues at hand by establishing the modalities for grievance redressal at various levels. However, we also need to increase the accountability of these monitoring agencies. We need to ensure that education is not merely an input which leads to an output. We need to ensure it carries a value. Good education should guide society towards achieving a healthy lifestyle and development.

To 41% of our population -- the children -- the government dedicates less than 4% of its budget!

Another field demanding intervention on our part and the government's is the health sector for early childhood care and development. There is a perpetual requirement of action to enhance the quality of healthcare facilities in rural and backward areas, which have a chronic shortage of government hospitals and other facilities. Institutional gaps have resulted in wide-spread malnutrition, scarcity of hospital beds, depressingly few healthcare centres, inadequate blood banks. We must also address the urgent requirement for more medical colleges and balance out the heavy concentration of healthcare in metro cities. Moreover, people in rural areas are generally unaware of hygiene practices and are known to contract diseases more often. We need to focus on these issues once again with better allocation and utilisation of budgets and reformative structuring of medical administration in India.

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Despite the fact that our nation has the world's highest number of malnourished children, child labour and children vulnerable to sexual offences, it is exceedingly unfortunate that this section of the society receives the lowest budgetary allocation in terms of proportion. To 41% of our population -- the children -- the government dedicates less than 4% of its budget! This 4% is to be utilised effectively and uniformly for their education, protection and health. All our efforts and policies crafted for the development of our children fail miserably with such decisions of the authorities.

The strength of any country lies in its people and I urge you to initiate strict action against these problems. The way forward is to ensure a robust policy framework, developing knowledge capacity and skill of our children and people, increasing accountability of implementation agencies by targeted intervention and initiating direct action and a people's campaign with mass participation by our children and youth.

If today we believe in them, tomorrow, they will rise and with them will rise India.

Friends, in the 66th year of sovereignty of our nation, let us make a promise to ourselves.

  • Let us promise to bring an end to this apathy and exploitation and slavery of our children.
  • Let us promise to ensure protection and health to all.
  • Let us promise to take steps towards the collective development of the Republic of India as envisaged by our forefathers.

It is time for all of us to take collective action, for the age of apathy is over and the path of compassion is before us.

Finally, let us promise to end child slavery. Because, our children deserve the power and liberty to dream. If today we believe in them, tomorrow, they will rise and with them will rise India.

Jai Hind!

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