A study of the share of children in the Assam Budget 2015-16 done by North Eastern Social Research Centre and HAQ: Centre for Child Rights shows that the children of Assam do not get the amount of attention that they require for their welfare. At 39 percent, Assam has the highest proportion of children among all the North Eastern States. That makes pertinent a critical analysis of the state budget from the point of view of the needs of children. Budget for Children (BfC) is a reflection on the need for holistic development of children in the State. However the rise in the budget is not in proportion to the need.
In the total budget of Rs 248,417.15 crores for the year 2015-16, the allocation for children is 13,843.64 crores which is 5.57 percent of the total state budget. There is an increase of 503.86 crores over the previous year.
The increase has been in Health, Education and Development of children by 4.94, 332.52 and 170.95 crores respectively but it has decreased for protection by 4.55 crores. Allocations have increased for elementary, secondary education and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. It has increased for the Mid Day Meal Schemes by 25.6 percent. In the development sector, allocation for Anganwadi workers has increased by 191.5 percent.
The Scheme for adolescent girls (SABLA) and other schemes like Pre School Feeding, ICDS, and Special Nutrition Programme have been increased between 3.5 and 70.6 percent. Allocation for health workers has increased by 49.1 percent. There is a rise also in Immunization of Infant and Children against Diphtheria, Polio and Typhoid etc and School health schemes. While this is a positive development some crucial sectors have been neglected.
The Intensive Child Development Scheme and Kishori Shakti Yojana have not received any allocation for the last two years. Moreover, there is reduction in allocation in Training of Auxiliary Nurse Midwives. Also allocation for Child Protection has been reduced by 27.84 percent, though it has increased by 143.2 percent for Implementation of JJ Act. Also allocations under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme and Welfare of Children in need and Care have been reduced by 36.4 and 21.4 percent respectively.
Nothing has been allocated to the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights. In 2015-16, the amount allocated for the Education of Tea Garden children has been reduced by nearly 57 percent.
Thus the budget shows that the amount has been reduced where there is real need. Child protection is the most important need in Assam but allocation to it has been reduced. The census data of 2011 show that the number of child labourers has increased to 351,416. That is probably a reason why the gross enrolment ratio for classes 1 to 5 is only 94.3 against the all India average of 116.
More than 15,000 children are working in hazardous establishments. Overall 4.9 percent children between the ages of 5 to 14 years are engaged in some form of child labour which is higher than the national average of 4.5 percent. In the 5th Annual Report of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights 2014, 4.7 percent of boys and 1.8 percent of girls below the age of 14 years are into child labour.
Equally important is the case of missing children. CID reports say that at least 4,754 children are missing in the past three years in Assam. Over 422 victims of human trafficking, mostly minors were rescued since 2011. A total of 718 children were missing in the State in 2014-15 November. Out of 546 cases of crime committed against children, the percentage of conviction is 4.4 and the pendency percentage in such cases is 92 percent. Out of 624 persons arrested for crime committed against children, only 312 were under investigation at the end of the year.
In cases of rape, out of 1,716 cases, 333 victims were below 18 years. This shows that health and protection are two important components that need greater attention. But allocation to protection has been reduced. It is true that an increase in allocations for education, health and development brings some respite to the children. But it does not justify reduction for protection because dangers to children are increasing in Assam and they have to be protected. That as well as reduction in allocations for children from the tea gardens who are the most vulnerable shows that children from economically backward regions and groups are neglected.
Allocations are only one aspect. There is also the problem of under-spending. Money may be allotted but may not be spent. In 2013-14 there was 99.1 percent under spending in the Mid Day Meal Scheme, and more than 50 percent under spending in ICDS (Centrally Sponsored Scheme) and Immunization. As a result in 2015-16 in the Union Budget there is a reduction in allocations in schemes for children. That is not just an issue of allocation but also of implementation. Proper monitoring of fund flow at each level is crucial while formulating strategies for identifying problems at the grassroots level. In 2013-14 there was under spending in the School Health Scheme and Immunization to the extent of 6.9 and 58.5 percent. There was under spending also in other child protection schemes like JJ Act implementation.
One can thus see that the problem lies not merely in allocation but also in the commitment to the implementing agencies to the children of Assam. The data show that adolescent girls need special attention but they do not get it. Proper funding should be ensured for SABLA and related schemes. But that alone is inadequate. Implementation has to improve in providing medicines like iron folic acid, counselling classes etc. This would also improve their enrolment in schools and colleges. That requires proper accountability of the implementing agencies, for example, from the teachers in the Mid Day Meal scheme. Providing the right environment and a child friendly budget is indispensable for a healthy nation –state.
With reduction in allocation in various schemes for children in the Union Budget 2015-16, makes matters worse for children. To ensure a bigger budget, it is imperative to see if the state gets extra income. Potential areas of extra income should be explored. But that alone is inadequate without proper implementation. Community participation is very important for schemes like SABLA and ICDS which demand not only monetary and infrastructural help but also contribution of ideas from the community.
Hence mobilization of people is very important. Efficient functioning of the health sector, plays a crucial role in this. Also the functioning of cultural and societal institutions cannot be ignored.
Welfare of children is important if we want to have a healthy future for Assam. Providing right political and economic conditions not only help children in growing as responsible citizens but also help them in reinforcing their sense of belonging and contribute towards better governance. That requires both higher allocations and greater accountability in implementation.
The author is Research Associate at North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati.http://www.sentinelassam.com/op_ed/story.php?sec=33&subsec=0&id=261150&dtP=2016-03-20&ppr=1#261150