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WHERE WOULD CHILDREN FIT INTO THE 2015-16 UNION BUDGET?
Bharti Ali and Kumar Shailabh*
Recently, suspecting organised trafficking in children, the Maharashtra government announced its plan to conduct DNA tests on children found with women begging on the streets. Surprisingly however, nobody ever questions why the established child protection mechanisms fail in the first place to ensure children a safe and secure environment. Even designing a response, everybody seems to forget that at the end of the day it is all about investing in child rights holistically; giving adequate space to children’s rights in the national and state budgets and ensuring effective utilisation of allocated funds!
The upcoming 2015-16 Union Budget will be the second opportunity for the BJP led government in the Centre to take its development agenda forward. The government has already highlighted its priority areas for the budget and has talked about significant tax reforms, smart cities, skill development, women’s security, budget for the social sector, among other things. But this time they will be expected to be more cautious in their planning as the “Aam Aadmi” can no longer be ignored!
Among the “Aam Aadmi” is the “Aam Bachha”, whose needs require special attention since budget analysis undertaken by HAQ: Centre for Child Rights and other groups working towards strengthening governance and accountability have shown how children’s rights have remained on the periphery, while they constitute 40% of the country’s population.
How the Union Budget 2014-15 failed children: Some Facts and Figures…
1) A constant decrease in the share of children in Union Budget
HAQ’s budget for children analysis for the last 15 years shows that children have never received more than 5 per cent of the total Union Budget allocation. In 2014-15, out of every 100 Rupees allocated in the Union Budget, the share of children was only four rupees and 52 paise.
While the overall budget allocations increased by 7.78 per cent as against the previous year, share of children dipped from 4.64 per cent in 2013-14 to 4.52 per cent in 2014-15.
2) Disparity in the allocations towards various child related sectors is a cause for concern.
Despite recognition of child protection as a critical agenda in the last two five year plans, it received only 4 paise of every 100 Rupees in the Union Budget 2014-15.
Resonating its concern over India’s performance on child protection, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC Committee) reviewing India’s report observed, “The budgetary allocations do not adequately take into consideration child protection needs. There is also mis-management of allocated resources, a problem which is exacerbated by a high level of corruption and the lack of effective monitoring and evaluation systems”.
It is alarming to see that the child health sector received only 16 paise out of every 100 rupees in the Union Budget 2014-15.
We must note that India is far from reaching the WHO standard of 3 per cent expenditure of its GDP on health as currently the over all public health expenditure in India is just 1 per cent of its GDP. Moreover, time has come to review the appropriateness of the allocations being made.
Even a comparatively heavy allocation for School Education failed to address critical issues
Allocation for school education reduced in 2014-15 as against 2013-14 at a time when various studies like the ASER Reports and the National Achievement Surveys have been highlighting low learning-achievement levels in school. Further, the problem of retention and dropout at secondary education, lack of infrastructure in schools, dysfunctional toilets and taps, dearth of trained teachers, and violation of RTE norms continue to be major concerns.
3) Face Value Allocations for Flagship Schemes
In 2014-15, the ‘Integrated Child Development Scheme’ (ICDS) budget observed a shortfall of INR 8338 Crore against the financial requirements set out in the ICDS Mission Mode document developed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
While ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan’ (SSA) witnessed a minimal increase of just INR 500 Crore compared to the previous year (INR 27,758 Crore in 2014-15), allocation for ‘Mid Day Meal’ remained unchanged in the 2014-15 budget. Understandably, the trend of shortfall in the number of teachers and majority of teachers recruited under the RTE being untrained/semi-trained contract recruits continues. Despite clear RTE norms, investment in quality is a huge gap and last year’s budgetary allocations for SSA failed to address such issues.
Even as the Prime Minister recently launched the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojana’ to save the girl child, one of the biggest criticisms of the scheme has been poor funding. Experts went to the extent of questioning the government’s priorities, planning and intent, comparing the allocation of INR 100 Crore for this scheme with INR 200 Crore allocated for building the statue of Sardar Patel.
While there was a welcome 33.33 per cent increase in the allocation for ‘Integrated Child Protection Scheme’ (ICPS) in the 2014-15 budget, it was still well below the amount needed for universalisation of this programme in all districts with all the infrastructure and human resources in place. Implementation of ICPS has been very tardy as functionaries appointed under ICPS on contract basis are not receiving their salaries for months together leading to low motivation, high levels of attrition and poor implementation of the scheme. Further, no additional funds have been provided for functioning of the implementing agencies, which also creates hurdles in the implementation.
Programme implementation costs seldom include the cost of activities and tasks assigned to the implementing bodies. For example, how will the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Councils perform their tasks if there is no distinct budget for it. Similarly, cost of setting up a Special POCSO Court in every district, cost of translators, interpreters, psychologists and such other experts to be consulted by the POCSO Courts and such other arrangements to be made for conducting child-sensitive hearings, cost of setting up Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) in every district, cost of inter-state and inter-country rescue and rehabilitation efforts expected to be made by the AHTUs, cost of investigation to be carried out by AHTUs etc. must become a clear and distinct component in the upcoming budget.
4) Underutilisation of allocations create hurdle in effective implementation
India has the largest number of children suffering from malnutrition in the world. Neo-natal mortality, falling sex ratio, children suffering from preventable diseases, increasing violence against children, retention of children in schools are all a matter of concern and need to be tackled head on. This requires careful planning, adequate resource allocation and proper utilisation.
Unfortunately however, even the little that is allocated often remains unspent. This lack of attention to budget allocations and spending for children is reflected in the outcomes for children. Proper utilization would let us assess the adequacy of allocations and help change the implementation strategy if required.
As a precursor to the budget session 2015-16, it is necessary to draw attention of the Finance Minister to the expectations already shared with him by various interest groups, including those representing children.
Key Policy Asks …**
1) Augment resources for children’s schemes in the 2015-16 Union Budget to bring about improvement in the outcome indicators for children
2) Give child protection concerns top priority and increase allocations to strengthen protection systems
3) Step-up investments under Restructured ICDS for addressing the rights of the young under-served children, and convert all Anganwadi Centres into Day Care Centres
4) Initiate measures to check under-spending in schemes for children and ensure timely disbursement of funds
5) Link outlays for child rights schemes to outcomes by adding suitable heads to Outcome Budget document that focuses on improvement in outcomes of various schemes
In the midst of reforms and the development agenda, the upcoming budget must finance its commitment of ‘every right for every child’ adequately. While focussing on the major flagship schemes, the government must not marginalise children of the already margianlised communities. HAQ strongly feels that the real mainstreaming of children will not be possible without addressing the needs of children of varied background with varied needs, holistic planning, adequate financing and proper implementation measures in place.
The previous government promised inclusive growth. With Niti Aayog replacing the Planning Commission, many minds wonder if and how this commitment will be carried forward. Nevertheless, what needs to be borne in mind is the Government of India’s own submission in its third and fourth combined periodic report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) stating that “many of the outcome indicators for children point to the disadvantaged status of children, the proportion of Child Budget in the Union Budget seems inadequate”. Can the present government afford to ignore this and will it do so is something we will get to see as the Union Budget 2015-16 unfurls.
(*Bharti Ali is the Co-Director of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights and Kumar Shailabh is the Programme Coordinator at HAQ) (HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, a leading Delhi based non-profit organisation, has been involved with Budget for Children Analysis, both at Union and State level since last 15 years)
**Source: Policy Asks and Expectations from Union Budget 2015-16, January 2015, People’s Budget Initiative