Insufficient social protection for children

There is an urgent need for global child welfare reforms to mitigate child labour, abuse and exploitation around the world

India is home to over 30.3% of extremely poor children. These children, especially girls, suffer from systematic discrimination and exclusion in the form of higher school dropout rates and greater vulnerability to child labour, trafficking and child marriage. Multiple development plans for poverty reduction and improved social security in rural areas exist, but there is a glaring absence of direct assistance.

The pandemic has disrupted access to health care, nutrition, education, water and sanitation, social and child protection. This made children more vulnerable to deprivation, abuse and exploitation.

India has taken a heavy hit on the economy whose weight is borne by the children. Yet, instead of prioritizing the budget for child welfare reforms, the budget allocation for children has been reduced. The overall expenditure for the Union budget 2021-22 was Rs 3,483,235.63 crore, and the total allocation for children was Rs 85,712.56 crore. While the total Union budget (BE 2021-22) increased by 14.5%, the share of children decreased by 10.8% compared to 2020. This year, the share of the budget allocation for children in relation to the Union budget has been the lowest in the last 10 years. It is reduced by 2.05 percentage points: to 2.46% (BE 2021-22) against 4.51% (BE 2011-12). This will not only make it difficult for India to meet its international commitments, constitutional mandates and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but it will push children further into the most marginalized and dangerous corners of society.

The total budget of the Ministry of Women and Child Development has decreased significantly compared to the previous year. The introduction of Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 emerged as essential programs to support existing programs such as Anganwadi Services, National Nutrition Mission, National Crèche Scheme and Scheme for Adolescent Girls. He received a total allocation of Rs 19,412.6 crore. However, the combined allocation for these four programs in 2020 was Rs 23,941.41 crore which is around 19% higher.

In fact, there has been an increase in crimes against children during the pandemic, but the budget allocation for child protection has been reduced by 40% for fiscal year 2021-22, compared to fiscal year 20-21.

The United Nations has marked 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor. Data from the International Labor Organization and UNICEF shows that since the start of the SDGs in 2016, an average of 10,000 children aged 5 to 11 have been pushed into child labor every day.

Laureates and Leaders for Children Founder, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and UN SDG Advocate Kailash Satyarthi has demanded the establishment of a Global Social Protection Fund with a fair share of direct benefits for children of the poorest communities. This is necessary to overcome growing inequalities and to save the future of the world’s children. This includes school feeding programs, access to free and quality education and healthcare, safe housing, clean water and sanitation. Low-income countries should invest in national social protection floors. These form the necessary safety net so that every child in the world can lead a dignified life, regardless of where they live.

Recently, The Laureates and Leaders for Children launched the Fair Share to End Child Labor campaign and hosted a UNGA side event co-sponsored by the Swedish government, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the ILO involving leaders world, former child laborers and current advocates and young activists come together to demand action to end child labour, a fair share for children and to pledge their commitment to end child labour. The campaign also involved grassroots awareness programs that took place in marginalized communities. Mr. Satyarthi, in his speech at a UN General Assembly event, said “$52 billion, which is equivalent to just 2 days of COVID relief in G7 countries last year and 0.4% of social security spending in Europe, which can give protection to every child and pregnant woman in low-income countries, which can end child labor and reduce poverty.

When families are denied support for their basic needs like food and health care, and are forced to live in dire conditions, their children can be forced into child labor. Social protection is needed to end this injustice.

(The author is Executive Director (Programs), Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation. Opinions expressed are personal.)

Joel C. Hicks