The Situation of the Child in India: Quest for Equity


Article 4 (Protection of rights): Governments have a responsibility to take all available measures to make sure children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. When countries ratify the Convention, they agree to review their laws relating to children. This involves assessing their social services, legal, health and educational systems, as well as levels of funding for these services

2.1 Childhood in Indian Context

Little is known about the early history of childcare, except through the gleanings of scriptures. It is a pleasure to read the expression of the childhood of Sri Rama, where the mothers are shown to be very nurturing, indulgent and caring towards the four sons. The description of Krishna Leela is a poetic treat and the details of pranks played by Sri Krishna during childhood days speak generously of joyful abundance with which children where indulged in as well as valued.

The best reference that one can get of the conceptualisation of the stages of child development in Hindu scriptures is through the Grihyasutras (700–300 B.C.), which put across various rituals which correspond to the developmental stage of early childhood. The rituals are:


Namakarna or the naming ceremony held in the first or third month of life—giving a name to the child



Annaprasana, the introduction of solid food in the infant’s diet performed around the sixth month



ChudhaKarma or Mundan i.e. tonsure, first head shaving, signifying broadly introduction to personal hygiene, in the third year



Akarsharabhyase introducing the child to first alphabets, around the fifth year



Upanayana, the formal introduction to one’s caste in the eighth year.


A child up to 7–8 years is considered too young to be given training, but after upanayana, he is considered to have entered the stage of brahamacharya, when he will primarily spend his time in learning. The next stage, grihastashrama, is when an individual is expected to marry and procreate. Here one sees that the progeny were valued and cherished, and parents were expected to nurture the child as a matter of duty. Children were essentially the responsibility of the family, kin group and the caste. Orphaned children were rarely abandoned. The belief that what we face in this birth is an outcome of our karma of the previous birth, made it easy to accept a handicapped child. Institutional educational care was represented by gurukuls. Children by the age of 7–8 were placed under gurus, and learned skills appropriate to their own caste. One’s gurus and parents were considered sacred and treated as such.

Ayurveda, like any other Indian tradition considered the total life span of an individual to be over 100 years. The Rig Veda, the first of the four Vedas, considered to be the earliest recorded book of wisdom in human civilisation, wishes every individual to lead a healthy life of 100 years: “jeevem sárdah satam”. In the earlier phase of ayurveda, the total life span was divided into the following three categories: balyavasth (childhood): 24 years; yuvavastha (young): 44 years and vaidhavastha (old age): 48 years. Thus the total life span was considered to be 116 years. However, later Susruta gave an elaborate and systematic classification of age of childhood as follows:

Balyavayya (childhood): 0–16 years. The balyavaya further constituted three stages of ksirpa (milkfed), ksirannada (weanlings) and annad (fed on cereals).

According to classical texts like Manu, the child belonged to the bottom of the social order along with the old and sick, newly married and pregnant women and slaves and servants. But all at the bottom were not to be dealt alike. While lower castes and servants who violated caste rules and norms were meted out harsh punishments, children, women, the old and sick were to be protected. The traditional Hindu texts and scriptures hardly have a reference to a female child, or for that matter to a brother–sister relationship. It seemed, women got an identity only after they married—as a wife or as a mother.

Traditional and Contemporary View on Child Rearing

There is no formal theory of child rearing in the Indian perspective, certain prescriptions are laid down in traditional teaching regarding the qualities to be nurtured in children and the ideal parental attitudes to be adopted in order to ensure the development of desired qualities in children. All these aspects are embedded in the spiritual context of dharma and neeti. The emphasis does not seem to be on specific parental behaviour but more on imbibing values and attitudes. In the contemporary view, there seems to be a general awareness of the relationship between child rearing practices and child’s personality and social behaviour. Also, the element of spiritualism is not very strong in the contemporary view.

The traditional view of the child is that of a pure, innocent, amoral, asocial being with a set of samskaras which represent inherent dispositions presumably carried over from the previous birth. There is a belief that the child needs love and protection and yet needs to be disciplined, which according to Manu’s code is more punishment than love.

In spite of a special relationship which is focal in the parent–child discourses, the traditional view warns against too deep an attachment in the interest of spiritual growth. The parent is reminded that getting too involved in this relationship might become an obstacle in the way of dharma and moksha, because intense attachment to the child can be a source of moah.

As per contemporary Indian view, the parent–child relationship is ‘symbiotic’, i.e., mutually beneficial. Parents are often indulgent. Sons continue to be important (for ritualistic reasons as well as for carrying the family name forward). Children are also seen as old age security, as a way of enhancing parents’ sense of personal power, status and pleasure or as a potential earning member. The last mentioned attitude is discordant with the generally overindulgent and protective parental attitude. Yet in the current scenario, with increased instances of child bonded labour and servitude, the exploitative role played by parents in certain Indian contexts cannot be brushed under the carpet. It would not be entirely incorrect to say that parents could be having children with a utilitarian attitude. It could amount to expecting the children to support, albeit at the cost of their own childhood, which is further justified by the economic condition of the family.

According to the traditional view, both father and mother are treated as equally important. But in certain situations, either of the two could be glorified more. The mother primarily has the nurturing role taking care of physical and emotional needs, while the father fulfils the protective, advisory and authoritative role, taking care of moral, economic and intellectual needs.

In today’s times, the parental role is completely mother centric, as the majority of studies on child rearing practices focus on the mother–child relation. There seems to be an assumption that the availability of the mother at home is necessary for child rearing.

2.2 Status of Children in India

Every year, tens of millions of infants around the world begin an extraordinary sprint—from defenseless newborns to becoming proactive young children ready for school. And every year, countless numbers of them are stopped in their tracks—deprived, in one way or another, of the love, care, nurturance, health, nutrition and protection that they need to survive, grow and develop. Poor, malnourished and unhealthy children make for poor and powerless states which are at the mercy of stronger states. Not providing for good health, nutrition, psycho-social care and cognitive stimulation of young children is a truly missed opportunity, which no nation can afford to let go. Investing in children is among the most far-sighted decisions leaders can make. A country’s position in the global economy depends on the competencies of its people and those competencies are set very early in life. In this chapter, we will examine how India is doing as far as children and their development is concerned.

India stands at the crossroads of history. India is home to more than one billion people, of which 40 % are children, defined as a person under 18 years of age. We have the demographic advantage of a large young population, while the rest of the population of the world is ageing. But the challenges that we are continuing to face in education, child survival, health, malnutrition, we need to urgently address these, or the demographic advantage may soon turn into a liability. The fate of many of our children is still determined by caste, religion and gender. Many are denied basic rights, opportunities and a secure childhood. Children in India are trapped in a maze of imbalances that deprive, exclude and exploit. Investment in children is not only a desirable societal investment for the nation’s future but also a step towards fulfilment of the rights of every child. In this context, India faces the immense challenge to provide to every child her rights to survival, protection and development.

Census 2011: Highlights with Respect to Children (​censusindia.​gov.​in/​)

  • The total number of children in the age group 0–6 is 158.8 million (5 million less since 2001)

  • The proportion of child population in the age group of 0–6 years to total population is 13.1 %, while the corresponding figure in 2001 was 15.9 %. The decline has been to the extent of 2.8 points.

  • Uttar Pradesh (29.7 million), Bihar (18.6 million), Maharashtra (12.8 million), Madhya Pradesh (10.5 million) and Rajasthan (10.5 million) constitute 52 % children in the age group of 0–6 years.

  • Overall sex ratio at the national level has increased by 7 points to reach 940 at Census 2011 as against 933 in Census 2001. This is the highest sex ratio recorded since Census 1971 and a shade lower than 1961. Increase in sex ratio is observed in 29 States/UTs.

  • Three major States (Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and Gujarat) have shown decline in sex ratio compared to Census 2001.

  • Kerala with 1084 has the highest sex ratio followed by Puducherry with 1038; Daman and Diu has the lowest sex ratio of 618.

  • Child sex ratio (0–6 years) is 914. Increasing trend in the child sex ratio (0–6) seen in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram and A&N Islands. In all remaining 27 States/UTs, the child sex ratio shows decline over Census 2001.

  • Mizoram has the highest child sex ratio (0–6 years) of 971 followed by Meghalaya with 970. Haryana is at the bottom with ratio of 830 followed by Punjab with 846.

It is estimated that around 40 % of India’s children are vulnerable to or experiencing difficult circumstances like children without family support, children forced into labour, abused/trafficked children, children on the streets, vulnerable children, children affected by substance abuse, by armed conflict/civil unrest/natural calamity, etc., as well as children, who due to circumstances have committed offences and come into conflict with law. Survival, growth, development and protection of these very large numbers therefore need priority focus and attention (Ministry of Women and Child Development 2011).

In international comparisons of the status and condition of children, India continues to rank poorly on several key counts. Human Development Index (HDI) measures the achievement of countries on three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, knowledge and decent standard of living. It includes indicators about children like the IMR, status of education and child labour. The world’s tenth largest economy unfortunately ranks 136 out of 187 on the HDI. Denmark is 15, Mexico 81 and Japan 10 on HDI. The population of children aged 0–6 years has declined from 164 million (16 % of the total population) as per Census 2001 to 159 million (13.1 % of the total population) in Census 2011. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, children constitute less than 10 % of the population. This decline is due to decline in the fertility rate from 3.1 children in 2001 to 2.7 as per Census 2011.

In India, of every 1000 children born, 42 (SRS Bulletin 2013) die before they see their first birthday—most of which are avoidable. About 22 % of newborn infants have low birth weight. Only 23.4 % of children are reported to have started breast-feeding within 1 h of birth. 46 % of infants receive exclusive breast-feeding till 6 months of age. Timely complementary feeding is introduced to only about 55.8 % infants. As many as 45 % of our children are stunted (too short for age), 23 % wasted (too thin for height) and 40 % are under weight (too thin for age). Despite regular immunisation programmes, only 44 % of 12–23-month-old infants are fully immunised against vaccine preventable diseases. A whooping 7 out of 10 children between 6 and 59 months of age suffer from anaemia (NFHS 3, 20052006). We have the world’s largest child labour force. There is a gross disregard for the girl child which is reflected by the skewed child sex ratio—914 females for 1000 males (Census India 2011, ​censusindia.​gov.​in/​)

  • Critical concerns:

  • India population 1.21 billion

  • Child population (0–6 years): 158.8 million (Census 2011)

  • Total child population (0–18 years): 430 million (Census 2011)

  • IMR: 42 per thousand live births (SRS, Sept, 2013)

  • U5MR: 35 urban, 61 rural (Census 2011)

  • Children born with low birth weight: 22 % (NFHS-3)

  • Children under 3 with anemia: 79 % (NFHS-3)

  • Exclusive breast-feeding till 6 months: 46 % (NFHS-3)

  • Malnourished children: 45 % stunted, 22 % wasted, 40 % underweight (NFHS-3)

  • Children fully immunized: 44 % (NFHS-3)

  • Sex ratio: 1000:940 (Census 2011)

  • Child sex ratio: 1000: 914 (Census 2011)

  • Every second new born has reduced learning capacity due to iodine deficiency.

  • Third largest crime in India after drug and guns smuggling is child trafficking. 45,000 children go missing in India every year.

Infant mortality rate and the under 5 mortality rate are widely accepted indicators of the state of children of any nation. While IMR is the number of children who die before the first birthday per 1000 live births, under five mortality rate is the number of deaths of children under 5 years of age for a live 1000 births. High IMR is an indication of the lack of health care and environmental conditions, while high U5MR is an outcome of cumulative conditions which lead to disadvantage and death. Looking at the trends in IMR, there has been a consistent lowering of IMR in the past 10 years. In 2006, IMR was 57, in 2008 it was 53, in 2009 it was 50, in 2010 it was 47 and as per SRS (Sept, 2013) IMR is 42 (46 rural and 28 urban). The Millennium Development Goal of IMR to be achieved by 2015 for India was 28, which looks to have been achieved for urban India, which stands at 28 (SRS Bulletin 2013). The MDG for U5MR is 42. The U5MR was 55 in 2009. Urban U5MR is 35, so MDG has already been achieved, while the rural U5MR is 61 (Census 2011). Six states in India which are likely to achieve the MDG targets of IMR and U5MR are Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

Analysis of the determinants of child survival in India clearly shows that IMR and U5MR among children born to illiterate mothers is higher than those born to mothers with some education. The relationship between education and mortality becomes significant when the education of mother is more than 8 years of schooling. IMR and U5MR is highest among children of mothers younger than 20 years of age. Also, children born less than 2 years after the previous delivery are less likely to survive. Mortality among children of mothers who are malnourished, anaemic and obese is also higher.

The Census 2011 threw up the most disturbing finding of a falling Child Sex Ratio (CSR). The female literacy has risen from 53 % (Census India 2001. ​www.​censusindia.​net/​) to 65 % (Census 2011). The corresponding figure for male literacy was 75 % in 2001 and 82 % in 2011, but the CSR has dropped showing a rising son preference and unwelcoming trend for the female child. Clearly, the legislation for sex selection of foetus is not working and there is a need to rethink more effective strategies in this regard.


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