Dr. Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission,
Ms. Pradeep Bolina, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development,
Honored and Distinguished Guests,
Members of the Media,
Thank you all for being here today for this auspicious anniversary. Around the world, celebrations like this one are being held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
In India today, a child can aspire to follow his or her dream of sending rockets into space, bat a cricket ball for a new world record, become an elected official or teach a new generation of children. Let’s commit that no child gets left behind.
India has a lot to be proud of in what has accomplished for her children. Home to one-fifth of the world’s children, India ratified the convention in 1992, embracing international standards in health care, education, legal and social services. In fact, India’s Eleventh Five Year Plan sets standards even more stringent so that all vulnerable women and children can survive and thrive.
Young people are making their voices heard, like we just saw in Sonu’s film, “The Classroom.” The Child Reporters Initiative gives these kids the media tools they need to document their own reality and their community’s, monitoring progress but also identifying gaps and needs. Young people ‘tell it like it is.’ We adults need to listen better.
So what ultimately has changed in India since the convention was put in place? Fewer under-five children are dying as the national mortality rate fell from 117 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 72 in 2007.
More children have access to improved drinking water, rising from 62 per cent in 1992-1993 to 88 per cent in 2005-2006. And more girls go to primary school. Attendance rates for girls 6-10 have increased from 61 to 81 per cent over the same period.
The passage of the Education Act in parliament this year and the previous Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and The Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act are prime examples of how the Indian Government is championing the rights of her children.
Progress has been made towards identifying and legally addressing child protection violations and targeting essential services to marginalized groups and disabled children. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights was established by the government in March 2007 and now five state commissions have been added in Goa, Sikkim, Maharashtra, Delhi and Karnataka.
And this year’s rollout of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) will transform legislative commitments into action to protect children.
True, many challenges remain for realizing child rights in India. One million newborns die each year during the first month of life, another million die between 29 days and five years. Every child should have access to the basic right of survival.
Let’s join forces to save the large number of lives snuffed out within the first few days of life. UNICEF is closely working with the Government and our other partners to encourage women to have institutional deliveries and ensure both mother and baby receive critical post-natal care for at least seventy-two hours.
Every child needs to be registered at birth, and to receive the certificate they need to access the services they are entitled to over their lifetime.
Under-nutrition is a violation of the right of the child to have the best start in life to develop to his or her full potential. Almost 55 million of India’s children are chronically malnourished. Eliminating malnourishment should be our top priority as it directly contributes to other key targets such as child mortality, school drop-out rates, gender equality and poverty reduction.
Early childhood, in particular, lays the foundation for a lifetime. Children who are chronically undernourished before their second birthday are likely to have diminished cognitive and physical development for the rest of their lives. As adults, they are less productive and earn less than their healthy peers and, if nothing is done to stop it, the cycle of undernutrition and poverty repeats itself, generation after generation.
The Prime Minister has said that sanitation should be a birthright. Eighty-eight percent of all deaths in children under-five years are related to diarrhea. More than half of the population, or 665 million people, practice open defecation.
Though India has been able to double the total number of people using toilets from 19 to 38 percent between 1990-2006 further acceleration for the use of latrines is needed. Let’s make sure to teach the importance of washing hands with soap. This simple, low-cost intervention can save the lives of countless children.
The convention lays a clear foundation on how schools can be child-friendly. Children bloom with interesting, quality education so that not only enroll but stay in school and learn the skills they need to be productive members of society.
The Right to Education Act is a powerful way forward to make sure that each child receives at least eight years of education. But today millions of children are not attending school. Child labour also remains a major area of concern, especially among teenagers 14-18 who do not have access to education and continue to work in hazardous occupations.
Widespread and entrenched exploitation, gender discrimination and caste bias in India cannot be wished away overnight. As the economy here continues to grow, so too should the gains being made in child survival, rights and education continue to be nurtured and bear fruit, now and in the future.
Rights can be declared and policies formulated, but unless laws are actually implemented, they will have little effect. All our efforts as partners are meaningless if the lives of disadvantaged, vulnerable children, their families and communities are not improved.
We are asking for three things: we should not accept work from children, nor should we tolerate child marriage and finally all children, especially girls, should go to school. Let’s make sure the rights spelled out in the convention, become the rights of each and every child. We’re celebrating today’s landmark 20-year anniversary. We can make the next 20 years count so that all of India’s children have the rights they are entitled to and the rights that they deserve.
I would like to end with the words of young people attending the UN General Assembly’s Special Session on Children. (Quote) “We are the children of the world, and despite our different backgrounds, we share a common reality.
We are united by our struggle to make the world a better place for all. You call us the future, but we are also the present.” (End quote) Let’s work for our children’s future here in this great nation, but never lose sight of all the potential and progress we can achieve together for India’s present.
Unite for children!
Dr. Karin Hulshof