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Twenty Years of The Convention on the Rights of the Child

20th Anniversary of CRC Sees India’s Children Reaching For the Stars Though Many Still Trail Behind

A child growing up in India today can aspire to be an astronaut sending rockets into space, a cricket batting legend, a Government minister, a Bollywood film star or a teacher set to inspire a new generation of children.

As the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) today, India has a lot to be proud of in the strides being made for her children. Home to one-fifth of the world’s children, India ratified the CRC in 1992, embracing standards in health care, education and legal, civil and social services.

What difference has the convention made to India? Fewer children under-five die 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. More girls go to primary school as attendance rates for girls 6-10 increased from 61 to 81 per cent over the same period.

When 12-year-old Rekha Kalindi, from a remote village in the Purulia district of West Bengal, stood up against child marriage she was relying on knowledge gained while attending the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) school run by the Government’s labour department to rehabilitate working children and help mainstream them in the education system.

Impact of the convention on national legislation for child rights

The passage of the Education Bill in parliament this year, and the prohibition of Child Labour and Child Marriage acts 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 marginalised groups. 

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. This year’s rollout of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), a programme focusing on transforming legislative commitments into action is truly a cause for celebration.

Challenges Remain

True, many challenges remain. One million newborns die each year during the first month of life, another million die between 29 days and five years. This anniversary calls for ensuring  every child has access to the basic right of survival.

Society must save the large number of lives snuffed out within the first few days of life. UNICEF is closely working with the Government to encourage women to have institutional deliveries and ensure both mother and baby receive critical post-natal care for at least 72 hours.

Eliminating malnourishment should be our top priority as it directly contributes to child mortality, school drop-out rates, gender equality and poverty reduction. Almost 55 million children under five in India are underweight for their age.

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 the cycle of undernutrition and poverty repeats itself, generation after generation.

During the South-Asian conference on sanitation last year the Prime Minister said that sanitation should be a birthright. Eighty-eight percent of all diarrhoeal deaths in children under five are related to poor water quality, hygiene and sanitation.

More than half of India’s population, or 665 million people, practice open defecation. Though India has been able to double the total number of people using improved toilets, from 19 to 38 percent between 1990-2006, further acceleration is needed.

The CRC provides clear parameters on how schools can be child-friendly and now we must make concerted efforts to make sure that every child attends and stays in school.

The Right to Education Act is a powerful way forward, placing the obligation on the State that all children receive at least eight years of schooling. But today millions of India's 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.

What role can the convention have over the next 20 years and beyond?

Widespread and entrenched exploitation, gender discrimination and caste bias in India cannot be wished away overnight. The recent global fuel, food and economic crises will certainly affect the country’s social progress, possibly slowing or even stalling recent gains in child survival and education.

We are all aware that rights can be declared and policies formulated, but unless the life of the child in the family and community is improved, all our efforts are meaningless.

We as common citizens must pledge not to accept work from children, not tolerate child marriage and ensure all children, especially girls, go to school. India’s children are her future.

The rights spelled out in the convention must become a reality for each and every child in this great nation.

Dr Shantha Sinha, Chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights 
Dr. Karin Hulshof, Representative, UNICEF India 


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This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). We have selected some rights that are very important to all children of India. The rights are written in a way that they are easily understood.
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