Expectation is one of the first words that come to mind, as the country looks forward to its annual Budget for 2016. From corporate giants to government employees to professionals, everybody pins their expectations on the Finance Minister. At this juncture, it might be particularly instructive to look at how the spending of India - the fastest growing economy in the world -- has been in the context of children, who number over 442 million. What do India's children expect from the budget? Does it ensure that no child is left behind in the nation's proposed blueprint for growth?
What do India's children expect from the budget? Does it ensure that no child is left behind in the nation's proposed blueprint for growth?
The Millennium Development Goals set by the UN came to a close in 2015. Looking back, India has made make tremendous progress in its efforts -- fewer children die of preventable causes, more mothers survive childbirth, many children, especially girls, are in school, and close to 15% of people below poverty the line have moved up. As the nation has committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the new Budget gives India an opportunity to focus, invest and perform better.
The same old story: not enough money for health and education
In the face of daunting differences in child mortality rates between socio-economic groups and regions, an aggressive approach backed by budget allocation is needed. With more people getting trapped in the cycle of poverty repeatedly, due to out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare, a budgetary allocation of 3% GDP is essential. India's once-spectacular AIDS programme is an excellent example of how a shift in budgetary priorities can leave the most vulnerable behind. Interruption in treatment caused by routine stock-outs of ART drugs and testing at government centres deprives people living with HIV, including 1,38,456 children, from enjoying access to drugs and diagnostics. When it comes to malnutrition, despite having made noteworthy progress in improving the status of undernourished children, the national-level programme needs to be effectively implemented -- like the laudable Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.
Our spending on education is at 3% of the GDP, still just half of the UNESCO-prescribed norm of 6%.
The education sector is in similar state. Millions of children still remain out of school or don't complete primary education. Our spending on education is at 3% of the GDP, still just half of the UNESCO-prescribed norm of 6%. How do we make sure that every Indian child below the age of 18 years gets an education and skills that prepare them for life? The answer lies primarily in delivering adequate budgetary support for the much-awaited new education policy. Honouring the commitments of the Right to Education (RTE) Act towards bringing in equality, the educational needs of all children, including those with vulnerabilities, ought to be budgeted adequately.
Child Protection is another box on a slippery downward slope. The government expressed its commitment to strengthen the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), yet the number of crimes against children has doubled in the last two years. India owes to its children a safer environment to live in. We look forward to more functional district child protection units (CPUs) along with more initiatives like Operation Smile. While the projected requirement for ICPS is ₹5300 crore, the allocation in the past years have remained around a measly ₹400 crore.
The government expressed its commitment to strengthen the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), yet the number of crimes against children has doubled in the last two years.
A simple math problem
A responsible system that cares and provides for children is the need of the hour. For a country with a whopping number of children -- over 40% of its total population -- India's budgetary priorities have never reflected enough their needs. The allocation of the total budget now stands at 3.26% for children, having never crossed 5% in the past. If the government truly needs to meet the expectations of its children, it would first need to solve this simple math problem. Barely 4% of the budget for 40% of the country's population merits serious calculations -- and India needs to get the numbers right by 29 February.
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