India owns the highest number of children in the world with nearly 434 million. Today, children are kept indoors, and schools are often shut in the capital as the 'Pollution Holidays' can be declared anytime. These conditions are getting normalized as it has been happening in the past couple of weeks including on the 'Children's day'. The narration of what is it to be a child in India has been changing drastically. We look at the three most important aspects of a child’s life and their status.
The fact that every 3 minutes a child dies in India due to toxic pollutants in the air confirms the risky environment that they are made to live. As high as 98% of children less than five years of age in low-and middle-income countries like India are exposed to toxic air. The records of the last 4 years of pollution levels in India have no slowing down signs, and this reflects the continuity of health risks of Children. Unless the Government and Authorities take regressive Policy Action to curb air pollution, India’s Children will continue to be locked indoor even in the next Children’s day!
Healthcare for children in India has become more of a quality issue rather than access. More than 40% of Children in India are malnourished or stunted. Poverty, malnourishment and poor sanitation are major contributions to the weak healthcare of children while in the rural area; difficulty in accessing healthcare continues to be a challenge.
There are nearly 50 million children in India suffering from mental disorders at any given point in time. Indian healthcare system’s policy priorities are on infants and children under 5 years, thus, the emphasis given to Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMH). This condition neglects the mental health conditions of children and adolescence.
International Education Database has ranked Indian education system 119th out of 200 countries in 2018. Only 44% of the children in standard V in government schools can read a standard II level text. In 2018, 4 out of 10 government primary schools had less than 60 students enrolled. Still, Government expenditure on education has not shown any change since 1997. The government spends 3-4% of the GDP since the 2000s.
The country is anticipated to own 250 million working population by 2030. India’s developmental goals and growth would significantly depend on this imminent young workforce. Given the current reality of children in India, It is uncertain if the existing policy responses to children's problems are helping the future workforce or making the situation worse for them?
Education is society’s most critical responsibility. Though the Indian government has been strengthening the infrastructure in the education sector since post-independence policy reforms, the education system in India has failed to meet the demand for functional schools and quality education. Increasing enrolments of 95% in primary schools will count for little if quality indicators are not improved. Addressing problems such as dropouts, repeaters, and teacher absenteeism is crucial. An incentive-based wage structure for teachers and more intense monitoring of schools is required. No policy has effectively improved the quality of education in public schools but contributes to declining and worsening the education system resulting in poor education standards among students.
The vulnerability level of the Indian population with regard to environmental challenges cannot be neglected. Increasing drought, floods, and air pollution are affecting the livelihood, security, and health of the people, and children are the most affected. Without any solutions, this generation will have a catastrophic effect upon themselves. Declaring a public health emergency and shutting everything down during peak time cannot be the only solution to tackle this kind of issue.
While Indian policymakers waste time in discussing party politics/power, religious property rights, and hardly prioritizing much-needed policy problems, the promises of becoming a trillion worth economy would be worthless as most of its population in 2030 will be unskilled and unhealthy.
Source: British Council Report on The school education system in India, July 2019 | Annual Status Education Report, 2018 | World Bank Data | Global Burden of Disease | WHO