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A Case for Gender-responsive and Child-responsive Budgeting in India


Author: Sanhati Banerjee


Every day 67,385 babies are born in India, that’s one sixth of the world’s child births. Every minute one of these newborns dies.

Statistics reflect community attitudes with fewer hospital admissions for girls than boys. In 2017 alone 150,000 fewer girls were admitted to SNCUs than boys.

Under-five mortality for girls in India remains 8.3 per cent higher than for boys. Globally this is 14 per cent higher for boys (Source: UNICEF Report).

Globally the number of women and girls who die each year due to issues related to pregnancy and childbirth has dropped considerably, from 451,000 in 2000 to 295,000 in 2017, a 38 per cent decrease.

With the birth of 25 million children each year India accounts for nearly one fifth of the world’s annual child births. Every minute one of those babies dies.

Nearly 46 per cent of all maternal deaths and 40 per cent of neonatal deaths happen during labour or the first 24 hours after birth. Pre-maturity (35 per cent), neonatal infections (33 per cent), birth asphyxia (20 per cent) and congenital malformations (9 per cent) are among the major causes of new-born deaths.

Why India critically needs a gender-justice and child-justice lens to strategize and mainstream child-sensitive policies and programs

Author : Sanhati Banerjee for Protsahan India Foundation

In a very first for the state, the Bhupesh Baghel-led Chhattisgarh government is on its way to present a special child-centric budget for the Chhattisgarh state budget 2021-22. This is in line with the Chhattisgarh government’s policy of presenting special budgets, case in point its gender budget in 2019-20. On another front, the Odisha state Child Budget 2021-22 aims to mainstream children in the state’s development goals with the outlay for child-specific schemes increased to ₹23666 crore from ₹22048 crore in 2019-20, which is a substantial increase of ₹1618 crore. The figure is more astounding considering the budget outlay for child-specific schemes was ₹16402 in 2017-18. This is tied with the Odisha’s Gender and Nutrition Budget.

India’s Bulging Youth Promise v/s the Vicious Cycle of Apathy and Neglect 

India is the second most populous country in the world with a population of 1.236 billion. There are >434 million children and adolescents in India, which is the highest in the world. The country is expected to have 250 million working population by 2030, which can be termed as an “enormous demographic dividend”.

According to United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) projections, India is experiencing a demographic window of opportunity, a “youth bulge” that will last till 2025.

However, what could be a prospective roadmap for India’s youth to emerge as youth role models and community leaders, is daunted by lack of access to nutrition, health, education and protection as well as development challenges including child marriage, maternal mortality rate (MMR) and gender inequality.

A Picture of Broken Childhood: Looking through the Critical Lens of Child Protection, Nutrition & Education

Let us take a look at some of the most critical data in the spheres of child protection, education and food security that signal the vulnerability of the child especially from marginalized communities and backgrounds of deep-rooted gender inequality.

A mother beats his children. The concept of violence and abuse in the family. Flat illustration in cartoon style.

Child Protection & Nutrition

  1. 94.6 per cent of offenders of child rape cases were known to their victims: A total of 38,947 child rape cases were registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012 in the year 2016, out which in 36,859 cases the accused was known to the victim, which turns out to be 94.6%.
  2. As per the 2011 Census, India had 10.13 million child laborers between the ages of 5-14.
  3. According to NFHS-4 (National Family Health Survey) (2015-16), children aged between 0-05 years (06-59 months), 58.6% were anemic, though a substantial decrease from 69.04% from NFHS-3 (2005-6), it is still a critically high indicator leading to poor brain and cognitive development and poor future prospects through lack of optimal participation in education.
  4. According to NFHS-4, total children in the age group of half a year to 2 years (06-23 months), only 9.6% children received an adequate diet (meal frequency and quality of food including milk solids among other indicators).
  5. Children under 5 years who are stunted stands at a massive 38.4% in NFHS-4, which turns out to be out of every 3 children more than 1 child is stunted (adequate height for age); while 21% is wasted (adequate body weight for height) for the same age group.
  6. Maternal health is severely compromised in India; percentage of mothers who consumed iron folic acid for 100 days or more when they were pregnant in NFHS-4 was only 30.3%, percentage of mothers who received postnatal care from doctor/ medical personnel was 60%. Such indicators are tied to the health and wellbeing of the nation’s children as mothers are not only the primary caregivers but if they are themselves deficient, they can’t be a source of nutrition for their children at the primary stage.

Sources: Crimes in India 2016; Ministry of Family and Health Welfare; What Does India’s Law Say on Child Labour?; In 94.6 per cent cases of rape, accused known to victim: NCRB

Child Education

  1. The Government of India’s Right to Education (RTE) Act has been instrumental in the reduction of the number of out of school children aged 6 to 14 years, from 135 lakhs in 2006 to 60 lakhs in 2014 (Source: RI-IMRB Surveys, 2009 and 2014).
  2. The highest proportion of out-of-school children within 6-13 years was estimated in the East Zone at 4.02%, and lowest within South Zone at 0.97%. Odisha has the highest proportion of out-of-school children in India at 6.10%.
  3. The majority (75 per cent) of the out of school children are concentrated in six states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal.
  4. At the nation level, a higher proportion of girls (3.23%) are out of school than boys (2.77%).

Education doodle set. Collection of hand drawn templates patterns of pupils students learning school university subjects studying at online training courses. Improval of skills expansion of knowledge.

Source: National Sample Survey of Estimation of Out-of-School Children in the Age 6-13 in India

Why India Needs Gender & Child Budgeting  

Historically, children, girls and women have been sidelined with their low representation in social, economic and political spheres. Girls’ and women’s voices have been few and far between with zero to negligible decision-making power and limited self-agency in matters of education, nutrition, marriage and child-birth. This is especially true for a developing nation like India where intergenerational cycles of poverty have further affected the access to the indices of social, economic and cultural development. Not only child protection and access to education, the girl child of disadvantaged communities is further neglected in spheres of nutrition and holistic diet and access to WASH—safe water, adequate sanitation, hygiene education. The implications include girls eating less quality food and being chronic anemic and calcium-deficient among others, lacking access to and awareness of menstrual hygiene and care, lack of access to clean and safe toilets, and of course, safe drinking water leading to life-long complications. As Sonam Gupta, a youth peer leader at Protsahan, India Foundation who works among children in Protsahan’s slum centers, says, “During lockdown (induced by the coronavirus pandemic) girls stopped getting their supply of Stayfree (sanitary napkins), medicines required during menstruation and, of course, iron folic supplements as they were out of school. The adolescent girls started using cheap, dirty cloth as a replacement to sanitary napkins, and their families who lost source of livelihoods started prioritizing a square meal per day as opposed to buying a Stayfree. Today, despite the lockdown being lifted adolescent girls and boys who were pushed to mazdoori (labor) are unable to integrate themselves back in the cycle of formal school education as their families’ economic sustenance and will have broken. In fact, several girls have already been pushed into child marriage or are waiting to be pushed into the vicious cycle.” Early marriages and early and frequent pregnancies lead to death at childbirth, poor cognitive development of both mother and child, poor birth weight of child and propel the same vicious cycle of poverty and lack of rights and access for the child as the one that afflicts the disadvantage mother. Highlighting this vicious cycle, Mrs. Preeti Poddar, head center coordinator at one of the child protection centers run by Protsahan, says, “One of the our centers (Dwarka) has children from a nomadic tribe of Rajasthan that earns its living through begging. Lacking any awareness about family planning, each family has at least 5-9 children, viewed as vehicles of earning/ begging money. Every time they go back to their native place, they marry off their 14/15-year-old-daughters. The children have no access to digital devices for education and the families largely resist education.”

Reversing Systemic Biases: Adopting the Lens of Gender and Child Justice in Budgetary Spending

In light of the above, it is critical to understand that gender inequality remains a major challenge in India & attaining gender parity in political and economic spheres, is one of the key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDGs also known as Global Goals that were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, include a call to reverse gender-based discrimination. It is part of a global response to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. However not only gender inequality, in the Indian context, children also suffer from caste- and class-based prejudices that have impaired the prospects of social mobility of disadvantaged children through decades. As Payal Rani, on-ground senior social worker at Protsahan, says, “An often ignored but compelling reality is that these children who belong to rag-picking communities are socially and culturally discriminated against owing to the regressive caste system. So deep-rooted is this prejudice that they themselves believe that they are “dirty”, not “worthy” of a good life. People don’t go to their houses; neither are they invited anywhere. They face such prejudices even at Anganwadi centers that primarily exist to services such communities.” It is not hard to imagine the mental state and self-esteem of a such a child. A child-responsive budget should be able to address such sections of children who are left out from the fold of progress through systemic biases.

The IMF paper, Gender Budgeting: Fiscal Context and Current Outcomes, explains that as of 2016 gender budgeting has been adopted by more than 80 countries. This list includes India, where gender budgets were launched in FY06 with the aim of addressing gender inequality. Gender budgeting refers to those fiscal policies and programs that ensure that the budget is sufficiently tailored to close gender gaps and propel women’s advancements.

The article How Much Does the Indian Government Spend on Women? published in Mint, explains that in FY06 when gender budgets were introduced as a separate section of the Union budget, 4.8 per cent of total spending was allocated for women-related schemes. This rose to around 5.5 per cent of total spending in FY09. There are two sub-parts under government spending on women-centric schemes: Part A—such as the direct-benefit Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (save the girl child, educate the girl child) schemes, and Part B schemes, which partially target women (where at least 30% of the scheme’s benefits go to women). Part B schemes, such as the Mid-Day Meal program, dominates (around 80% of the gender budget in FY20).

Progressive Budgets & Child Rights: Why Budgetary Spending on Children is the Building Block of Tomorrow 

To understand the significance of child rights, we must understand that childhood is a unique window of opportunity. It is that window of possibilities of scaling personal and socio-cultural developmental targets, where self-empowerment is both a personal goal and a viable tool of community empowerment. It is that window through which children can emerge as future leaders and above all, a window to break shackles of poverty and caste- and gender-based systemic discrimination through access to education, technology and safe and healthy physical and psychological integrity. Above all, it is a window of dreams and innocence, which demands and deserves to be free of abuse and violence, and justice in case of such violence and trauma.

It is within the above context that the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) obligates States to undertake measures to ensure the fulfilment of children’s rights.

The CRC sets out the legal obligations of national governments to realize children’s economic, social, civil, political and cultural rights to the maximum extent of their available resources. In addition, governments are bound to abide by other principles to realize child rights:

  1. Progressive realization: The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) specifies that States have the obligation to progressively achieve over time the full realization of the rights recognized in the Covenant to the maximum of their available resources.
  2. Non-discrimination and equality: The ICESCR states that everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, including age.
  3. Non-retrogression: States should not allow the existing protection of economic and social rights to deteriorate; a retrogressive measure would be cuts to expenditures on public services that are critical for realizing child rights or cuts to taxes that are critical for funding such services.
  4. Minimum essential levels/minimum core obligations: The State is obligated to make sure that people living under its jurisdiction, including children, enjoy at least minimum levels of protection of each of their economic, social and cultural rights.

Thus, budgetary investment in children also represents an investment in the future development of a country. Healthier children of today with access to good diet and health coverage and uninterrupted education and the empowered girl child who is not married off early in view of her being a liability but one whose educations is suitably incentivized are the building blocks of tomorrow. This virtuous cycle will lead to greater workforce participation and an optimal economic rebound for the nation.

What is Child-responsive Budgeting?

Child-responsive budgeting is not a new set of budget expenditures or budget procedures. Instead, it presents new analytical criteria to ascertain whether the proposed budget can be considered to be child-responsive. A Save the Children study Public Budgets: How Governments Should Spend Money for Children’s Rights highlights how open, inclusive and accountable resource mobilization, budget allocation and spending should inform that State’s considerations for making the State budget child-responsive. Finally, a State should not discriminate against any child through resource mobilization, budgeting and spending.

Following are the critical points of a child-responsive budget that Protsahan has been advocating for.

  1. Progressive: It has to provide an appropriate resource base for the progressive realization of child rights.
  2. Analysis & Advocacy: It has to prioritize excluded sectors and assign special allocations with costed plans to reach the most marginalized classes of children. For instance, a good test to measure this would be to ask the question: Is this budget allocation of resources/ costed schemes truly address the needs of the children of sex workers or children born and raised in red light areas, or street children raised in unorganized slum colonies most of whom do not have caregivers?
  3. Transparency & Participation: Decision-making processes should be transparent and allow for the effective participation of key stakeholders, including civil society organizations (CSOs) representing children and children themselves.
  4. Mobilizing Media and Social Support: Dedicated online budget forums can generate or boost public consensus via petitions on raising the government’s accountability for safeguarding child rights through increased budget outlays. For instance, a good question to ask is: Are there reliable child rights forums that integrate children’s voices and online pro-child communities galvanizing conversations around child-specific schemes? Are there enough targeted campaigns working towards generating public support for such schemes? (UNICEF Child Rights Toolkit: Integrating Child Rights in Development Cooperation)

In conclusion, it is best to sum up that a gender-responsive and child-responsive budgeting is not only an ethical compulsion upon India but an investment in future economic growth and social dividends as well as a boost to reversing discrimination and inequities and promoting integrated and inclusive societies. And, this is the uncompromisable goal of a true democracy.

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