It is hard to recall a single day when we don’t see reports of horrific violence against children or children suffering injuries or losing their lives due to one factor or the other. Given this, it’s a welcome move that, as part of the National Plan of Action for Children, a district-wise map depicting problems facing children across India was released recently by the ministry of women and child development. It covers 409 of the 678 districts in India and highlights vulnerabilities, like child marriage, trafficking, missing and runway children, child labour, children affected by civil unrest, sexual abuse, dropouts and low literacy rate, malnutrition, foeticide and HIV-affected children.
While states like Odisha, West Bengal, and Bihar feature high on child trafficking, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are affected most by malnutrition. The North-eastern states have done badly in addressing child malnutrition.
Such data is invaluable, but what needs to be ensured is the follow-up plan. The authorities must match the different government services designed for children with the issues prevalent in different areas. The plan is comprehensive in outlining objectives, strategies, action points and indicators for measuring progress under its four priority areas — survival, health and nutrition; education and development, and; protection and participation. It identifies those who are responsible for implementing different strategies and they must be held accountable.
There are new challenges in child safety, like online abuse. It is not as though India lacks laws to protect children. In the case of child labour, it has the highest number of laws in the world and ironically, the highest number or child workers. The challenge is in effective and speedy implementation.
With such a data bank available, districts will be able to share best practices.
The issue of child abuse is particularly worrying as 53% of children in India are victims. Studies show that boys are almost as vulnerable as girls and that a very small percentage of cases are successfully prosecuted. In the cases of violence and abuse against children from disadvantaged sections, the police have been found to be particularly cavalier, often refusing to file FIRs. While India is rightfully proud of its youth demographic, it doesn’t seem as concerned about giving its children a safe and secure environment. The map may not address all the problems, but it holds great promise as a first step in doing right by our children.