PUNE: Inclusion of children below six years as well as those in the age group of 15 to 18 years in the main provisions of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, allotment of 10 per cent of India’s Gross Domestic Product to education, and ensuring quality’ schools
with B.Ed teachers within one km of every habitation across the country, are the three key demands made by the advocacy group Child Rights and You (CRY) in its charter to the government, signed by over 7.5 lakh citizens so far.
The signature campaign was launched to mark 20 years of the formulation of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Priya Zutshi , manager-communication for CRY told TOI. “While in New Delhi the signature campaign culminated on December 11 the anniversary of the day India ratified the treaty the campaign, as a whole will culminate on the day we present the charter with signatures to both the Prime Minister and the President in the form of a symbolic book.”
CRY’s regional director Puja Marwaha added: “The upcoming winter session of Parliament is an opportunity to ask the government to amend the Act and make its provisions truly reach each and every child in the country.”
The signature campaign has witnessed the involvement of over 200 grassroots NGO partners of CRY that work with 6,700 villages and slums across 18 states in the country. “In Maharashtra, over 16 partners have helped take the campaign to every district of the state,” Zutshi said.
Explaining the rationale behind the three key demands, Zutshi said: “There is a dire need to extend the age group of children covered by the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. Currently, the act covers children only between six to 14 years. This is in no way adequate, considering India is a young country, with a significant population between 0 to 18 years. While a sound nursery education lays the foundation for what a child will imbibe then on, education beyond Std VIII is similarly important as these children are in no way qualified, either for vocations or for life. Thus, leaving out early childhood care and education and senior schooling seriously limits the right to education.”
With regard to easily accessible schools with properly qualified teachers, Zutshi pointed out that no minimum standards had been defined for teachers, school infrastructure and facilities, including basics like drinking water, toilers, classrooms, teacher-student ratios, etc. “Similarly, even though it has been proven that a child learns best in his/her mother tongue, the Act does not specify mother-tongue education as a medium of instruction. Curricula norms need to spell out that the content of education be relevant to where the child is,” she said.
Besides, the teacher, who is the key figure in a child’s learning, needs investment in improving qualifications, capacities and attitudes to be inclusive towards all children, and be well-paid, said Zutshi. “We, therefore, need B.Ed teachers to be in place, whose appointments ought to be viewed in the light that they are an integral aspect of the education process.”
Elaborating on the ambitious demand of allotting as high as 10 per cent of India’s Gross Domestic Product to education, Zutshi said that a study of all the developed countries across the world would show a high investment on education, somewhere around 8 to 9 per cent of the said nation’s GDP. “In contrast, the Indian government’s spending on education for its 400 million children has actually reduced from 3.84% of the GDP in 2008-09 to 3.03% in 2009-10. Given the fact that the right to education is meant for as high as 40 per cent of India’s citizens, the Act is heavily under-funded. Unless we put the state’s money into education, the act will remain a paper tiger.”
The UNCRC: Hits, misses and the road ahead
The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international human rights treaty which has been ratified by 192 countries. The CRC is built on certain “foundation principles” that underpin all other children’s rights. The CRC confers the following basic rights on all children across the world, without discrimination, including: a) The Right to Survival to life, health, nutrition, name and nationality b) The Right to Development to education, care, leisure, recreation c) The Right to Protection from exploitation, abuse, neglect d) The Right to Participation to expression, information, thought and religion. India ratified the treaty on December 11, 1992.
The achievements so far (in India)
We have a National Commission for the Protection of Rights of Children
We have laws that ban child labour, even in domestic work, though implementing this law leaves a lot to be desired
We have improved as far as access to schooling is concerned. We have large-scale schemes for children, such as the mid-day meal scheme, one of the largest of its kind anywhere in the world, and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), which again, is one of the largest government nursery schemes anywhere in the world, as well as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. which is a centrally-sponsored scheme to ensure quality education for children.