Even though India has committed to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the union budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley leaves much to be desired in reaching child development goals.
Children, who form a total of 36.6 per cent of India’s total population, are left out in education, health, nutrition, safety and overall well-being due to the lack of emphasis on these particular sectors in the budget 2016-17.
Focusing only on the first four SDGs, it is clear that much more planning and financial allocations need to be made by the government towards ensuring that children are provided for.
Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms, everywhere
This requires a multi-pronged effort to counter multi-dimensional poverty by budgeting and providing for water, energy, food security, livelihood creation for the households, securing the health of natural resources on which the livelihoods of people depend, reducing vulnerabilities, ensuring equity and assuring a just governance framework. This budget does make a provision for Rs 9,000 crore for the Swach Bharat Abhiyan and also provides Rs 5,500 crore for crop insurance. Even as the government in going to spend Rs 38,500 crore on MGNREGA, child protection through the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) has seen a diminishing budget, or providing safety nets for the poorest households – in which a large proportion of our children live.
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Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
India ranks 25th among leading countries with a serious hunger situation with a Global Hunger Index (GHI) of 29.0 as calculated by 2015 Global Hunger Index. In India, 37 per cent of children under five in 15 states were stunted (NFHS-4), showing a fall of just five percentage points in a decade. Bihar and Madhya Pradesh are the worst off, with 48 and 42 per cent respectively of children stunted. Unless children are provided the necessary micro-nutrients they need, they are unlikely to develop to the best of their potential. The fact that mid-day meal allocation has been increased by only Rs. 463.6 crore, or five per cent, and ICDS supplementary programme finds no mention in the budget, is a cause for concern.
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
For India to achieve this goal, it will have to reach the value of around 0.9 for its Health Index, which includes health status of population, quality of healthcare institutions and financial instruments for access to healthcare (insurance, etc.). Public expenditure on health in India has hovered around one per cent of the country’s GDP, and accounts for less than one third (33 per cent) of total health expenditure.
Though the budget has given a health cover of Rs 1,00,000 for each family which is welcome, this budget has not enhanced spending on health sector and both young children and adolescents are likely to be negatively impacted when it comes to out-of-pocket expenditure that the poorest families cannot afford.
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
The biggest investment that is needed to ensure equitable and quality learning for all age groups must begin with investment in care and early childhood development services. The budget for Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) has declined marginally since last year and this will definitely impact plans to add quality to crèche and pre-school component of ICDS and turn Anganwadi Centres into ‘vibrant learning centres’
The government funding for education in 2016-17 was Rs 71,139 crore an increase of seven per cent since last year, but the allocation for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has seen a meagre hike. Though the decision to invest in building 62 new Navodaya Vidyalayas and plans for ten public and ten private institutions to emerge as world-class Teaching and Research Institutions is welcome, but this intervention cannot meet the current challenge of ensuring ‘quality with access and equity’ across 1445807 elementary (Grades I-VIII) schools in the country out of which 74.47 per cent are government schools catering to 118,973,934 children (DISE 2014-15). Investment in primary grades in capacity building of teachers, particularly to ensure that children learn to read and write is essential if we want to meet the SDG Goals.
Given the importance of secondary education for children to transit to higher education and other skill sectors, it is inappropriate that no funding has been given to budget allocations towards RMSA. Secondary education is also key in ensuring that girls are not married early and achieve gender equality.
It is appreciated that skill development under the PM National Skill Development Mission has allocated Rs 1,700 crore and higher education has got Rs 1,000 crore. However unless we invest in early childhood development and early grade learning, most of the poorest children would leave schools without the commensurate skills to pursue their dreams.
Given that this is the first year of implementation of the SDG’s, one can only hope that future budgets will help realise the aspirations and dreams of the children living in poverty and enable them to achieve their full potential.