A consolidated report on the situation of vulnerable and excluded children from India, comprising 28 states and four union territories, was recently presented at the National Conference on 'Plan For Every Child' for Children in Difficult Circumstances.
Representatives from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, various state agencies, UN bodies and Civil Society Organisations participated in the discussion.
Child labour and trafficking have emerged as the key problems faced by the majority of vulnerable children across India in the state and regional consultations. Street and working children are also a key concern reported by 80 percent states (26 states out of 32). 75 percent (24 states out of 32) reported missing and trafficked children as a third major concern. 19 states across 3 regions (North, South and West regions) reported the issue of child marriage as a major concern.
All states in East and Northeast India reported on issues of Children Affected by AIDS while all Northeastern states reported the issue of Substance abuse.
The findings are the result of consultations held over three months with over 2,000 civil society organizations, including government departments working with children living in difficult circumstances. The consultations were conducted in 28 states and four Union Territories with participation of 1500 representatives, and five regional consultations with participation of 500 representatives from national and regional NGOs, the UN agencies, government institutions, national and global networks and coalitions, corporates, media, academicians, legal professionals, children, youth and communities.
Children in Difficult Circumstances are those living on the streets and working, those affected by HIV/AIDS, victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, children of female sex workers and child labourers.
Plan India through its innovative programmes would ensure that all related endeavors promote access to rights, equity and justice as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child, Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Government of India's National Plan of Action for children 2016 which is committed to 'putting the last child first'.
The NGOs will form a larger Network of Civil Society Organizations to take forward research, programmes and initiatives on children in difficult circumstances. The consortium will strengthen grass root level networks with Gram Panchayats and district level governance structures and collaborate with the Government to develop child sensitive data on all key issues.
Along with the release of the CIDC report, the consortium adopted the 'India Declaration on Children in Difficult Circumstances' that secured a 15-year commitment from all partners to help improve the lives of vulnerable children. To ensure sustainability, a CIDC Network will be set up by Child rights and development NGOs. Plan India would reach two million vulnerable and excluded children through direct interventions by 2020.
Speaking on the occasion, Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director, Plan India said, "Millions of children continue to be denied their basic rights and entitlements such as food, shelter, education, medical care, protection and security because of their circumstances. The 'Plan for Every Child' initiative will provide unique opportunity to child rights organisations, development practitioners, researchers and policy makers to address the numerous problems faced by children and reinforce commitments through practices, programmes, policies and investment."
As per current statistics, 23 million children below the age of six years are malnourished (ICDS Status Report), 19 million children are living and working on urban streets of India (UNHCHR Report) and 4.3 million children remain still employed as child labourers (2011 Census of India).
The 'Plan for Every Child' was organized by Plan India with support from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India. Distinguished delegates included Leena Nair, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Yasmeen Muhamad Shariff, UN Working Group Member, Stuti Kacker, Chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Government of India, Govind Nihalani, Chair Emeritus, Plan India Board, Rathi Vinay Jha, Chairperson, Plan India, Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director, Plan India, Surina Narula, Patron, Plan India and over 200 representatives from NGO's across India.
The conference also reviewed the existing best practices, effectiveness of government policies, legislation and programmes in addressing the rights and entitlements of the most vulnerable children. The participants discussed multiple causes and situations leading to increased vulnerabilities and denial of rights to children and sought potential solutions to these problems.
Participants acknowledged that promoting knowledge management and collaborative processes, including research are important drivers in influencing policies, practices and investment to improve the lives of CIDC.
Dr. Yasmeen Muhamad Shariff, UN Working Group Member said, "Special programmes and project interventions are needed for children who face multiple deprivation and vulnerabilities owing to their circumstances. The available resource is not adequate to bring out transformational change and ensure holistic development, protection and care that can strengthen families and communities of children in difficult circumstances."
At the conference, an art exhibition was held displaying art work by 150 children from five regions (Imphal, Bharatpur, Pune, Rachi and Vijayawada) depicting their views on issues affecting children in difficult circumstances was inaugurated by Govind Nihalani, Eminent Film Director, Chair Emeritus, Plan India Board.
All state and regional consultation, in their recommendations, urged government and civil societies to place more emphasis on training of all functionaries on basic child rights acts/schemes and their implementation for children in difficult circumstances. The laws surrounding children in difficult circumstances should be amended in order to ensure uniformity in age along with life-skill education in all schools, specifically on how children can protect themselves from abuse, neglect, exploitation and harassment.
Further, there is need to strengthen local governance, ensure child protection, set up legal aid clinics in rural areas, as well as drug de-addiction and rehabilitation centres.
Recommendations also included a centralised adoption system and specialised counsellors to support children subjected to sexual assault. The labour department must work together with educational and social welfare departments to promote child welfare in all aspects.
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