By Sreeparna Chakrabarty*
Children cannot vote, they cannot make political demands and therefore do not have any say in electoral outcomes. Is this the reason why, year after year, political parties have been ignoring the needs of children in their poll promises?
This despite the fact that children constitute over a third of India’s 1.21 billion population. Children appear to be the most neglected segment in India, with their rights being vastly ignored.
“It is time that our manifestos realize that we have an India with 440 million children below 18 years. Unfortunately elections are about pampering the electorate and children do not vote. But our political parties need to remember that our electorate values these children, politicians may not,” Jayakumar Christian, CEO of World Vision India, a grassroots organisation working for children, told IANS.
“Children cannot attend election rallies, tweet or engage on social media. But our children will vote with their discontentment through their parents and communities,” he added.
“If our finance minister is able to include child budgeting in the union budget every year, why not in the manifestos,” Jayakumar asked.
An analysis of the 2009 general election manifestos of political parties by NGO Child Rights and You (CRY), reveals that the space received by children’s issues range from a mere five percent to 14 percent across parties.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist and the DMK are at the lowest at 5 and 6 percent respectively while the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) scored the highest at 14 percent.
Pragya Vats, campaign manager at Save the Children, another NGO working for children, told IANS: “Governments have rarely prioritised children, and fail to recognize that they have rights. India continues to hit the headlines for our staggering statistics on all indicators relating to children’s well-being.
“For a country which loses 1.4 million children under five years of age every year to death and disease and where eight million children still remain out of school, the welfare of children rarely finds a mention in the campaign of any political party,” she said.
India has the largest child population in the world: Over 17 percent of the world’s children live in India.
Of the 430 million children in the 0-18 age-group, about 160 million are below the age of six and about 270 million are between 6 and 18, according to the 2011 census.
“Children constitute 40 percent or a third of India’s population but these statistics reflect that we as a nation are not doing enough for our children. By ignoring children, we are not only putting our present at peril but also our future,” Vats maintained.
She said issues concerning children must emerge high on the political agenda and translate into commitments.
Last month, a delegation of children, under the aegis of Chetna, an NGO working for street children, met Congress leaders Mukul Wasnik and G. Mohan Gopal, both members of the manifesto drafting committee, and presented a charter of demands. However, none of the demands were included in the party manifesto released March 26.
“We were surprised to see that the Congress manifesto did not mention a single thing which these leaders promised,” Chetna director Sanjay Gupta told IANS.
“The parties should take the issues of children seriously,” he added.
Recently, World Vision India released a manifesto for children which included the right to good health, health services in villages and free and quality health services for all vulnerable children in hospitals.
It also demanded strict enforcement of laws against trafficking and child labour and better opportunities for disabled children.
Added Gupta: “Children are the future of this country. They are potential voters and their issues also affect the adult electorate. It is high time political parties thought about them.”
*( An IANS Election Special Feature)