Bhubaneswar , 7/4 ( Odisha Samachar/Abhisek Mohanty) : Just as the 16th General Election is flagged off in India, it is heartening to note that for the first time ever most of the major political parties in the fray have allotted a special section focusing on children’s issues in their manifestos. Civil society has been campaigning for the inclusion of promises for children for many years so that their special needs related to education; health and protection can be met. In an event on the Public Day of Action, last Saturday, at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, under the Nine is Mine campaign, about 1,000 children and 23 civil society organizations including Save the Children, World Vision, Wada Na Todo, Youth Ki Awaaz, GAIN, CRY had gathered to highlight the fact that children (who comprise about 40 per cent of the country’s population) should not be forgotten by voters and political parties in the world’s largest democratic exercise.
Steve Rocha, from Nine is Mine, pointed out to the gathering: “Children can’t vote. Therefore, it is important they should be able to influence people who represent their issues and concerns in parliament.” Indeed, these elections give an opportunity to the public, civil society, industry associations, trade unions and other organizations to engage with political parties to influence the governance and future course of action, which will hopefully lead to policy reforms and ‘change’ for children, especially those from the marginalized communities.
Save the Children had launched the #VOTE4CHILDREN campaign in the lead up to the general elections to raise the children’s issue on top of political and public agenda. Under the campaign Save the Children, along with other child rights organisations and civil society actors, met with political leaders across parties — both at the national and state level — to influence political parties’ election manifestos.
According to Shireen Vakil Miller, Policy and Advocacy Director of Save the Children, the NGO has developed a roadmap for influencing the governance for child rights in India which covers five key demands. “These five demands — if prioritised in policy — would greatly enable scores of children, especially the most marginalised, in the country to have access to quality education, address their health needs, and create robust institutional framework for effective implementation of the policies,” she believes.
The top 5 priorities for Children are to increase investment for child protection, education, health and nutrition. The budget for children is only 4.64 percent of the total union budget. It should be increased upto 10 percent of total budget. The public expenditure on health should be increased upto 5 percent of GDP as per WHO standard and the public expenditure on education shall be increased upto 6 percent of GDP for filling the position of teachers and quality education as per the norms of Right to Education Act. Since child protection is a major concern, the budget allocation for an integrated child protection scheme should be increased five-fold.
Secondly, to amend Child Labour (Prohibition and regulation) Act to ensure all children has access to Right to Education and harmonize the age definition of all child-related legislations in line with the National Policy for Children 2013, where every individual below 18 years is recognized as a child.
To declare access to quality primary healthcare as a fundamental right, introduce the National Health Bill, 2009 to enable citizen’s justifiable access to basic healthcare with a special focus on women, children and unreached population and establish an independent, convergent body that will anchor nutrition at the national level, develop a national nutrition policy, and issue orders for conducting a comprehensive periodic survey on nutrition to track progress in eliminating malnutrition. Establish Nutrition Missions in all states with high levels of malnutrition are among other priorities.
To elevate the Ministry of Women and Child Development to the status of the Cabinet Ministry to strengthen the focus for child development and protection is among other demands.
With these demands, Save the Children and other child rights organisations have been engaging with the political parties to draw their attention to children’s issues, with possible solutions emerging from its programmes that are replicable. Many political parties have welcomed the recommendations being made by Save the Children and incorporated these as crucial promises in their manifestoes.
The #VOTE4CHILDREN campaign will continue to bring together efforts online through pledges urging the public to vote for a candidate who commits to taking concrete steps for ensuring the rights of children. A tweet-a-thon has been scheduled for April 9 at 1pm, where public is requested to tweet with Nandita Das, Harish Iyer and other influencers who are supporting the campaign, a press release by Save the Childern said.