Health

Can India be ‘atmanirbhar’ by cutting budget for children

While total allocations to Union budget 2021-22 saw an increase of 14.5%, the share for children declined by 10.8% compared to 2020

 
By Priti Mahara
Published: Friday 12 February 2021
While the total Union budget saw an increase of 14.5 per cent, the share of allocations for children declined by 10.8 per cent. Photo: Surya Sen

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has dealt a serious blow to the Indian economy. The economic slowdown has aggravated poverty, disrupted public provisioning for children’s welfare, exacerbated existing gaps in availability, access and utilisation of services. It has multiplied challenges for children from marginalised communities.

Healthcare, nutrition, education, water and sanitation, social and child protection services have been disrupted due to the pandemic, and the impacts have been devastating for children and young people as well. This has also led to steep declines in facility-based care such as childbirth services, immunisations, treatment of children with severe malnutrition and health care for sick children.

Expectations were rife that the Union government will take adequate measures to safeguard children’s interest in the Union Budget. However, budget proposal for 2021-22 quite missed the mark.

This time, the buzzword for the Union Budget was ‘atmanirbharta’ (self-reliance). But the allocations made towards the welfare of children (reflected in Statement 12) reflected that the vision could be achieved without paying due attention to the 40 per cent of India’s population: Its children.

There are reasons to believe that inadequate investments towards children will have serious implications, especially when it comes to attaining Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) commitments.

 Budget for children

The overall outlay for the Union Budget 2021-22 is Rs 3,483,235.63 crore, and total allocation for children was Rs 85,712.56 crore.

While the total allocations for the Union budget (BE 2021-22) saw an increase of 14.5 per cent, the share of allocation for children declined by 10.8 per cent compared to 2020. This year’s share of budgetary allocations for children as proportion of Union budget is the lowest in the last 10 years. It reduced by 2.05 percentage points: To 2.46 per cent (2021-22 BE) from 4.51 per cent (2011-12 BE).

There was a 0.70 percentage point reduction in total budget allocated to children compared to last year, ie, 2.46 per cent (2021-22 BE) compared to 3.16 per cent in (2020-21 BE).

In terms of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the share of child budget as per cent of GDP was just 0.38 per cent in 2021, which was 0.43 per cent in 2020-21 (BE).

Component-wise distribution

An analysis of component-wise allocations revealed that other than child health, which saw an approximate increase of 15 per cent, all other sectors saw a decline. Allocations for child protection took the biggest hit with a drop of more than 40 per cent (as compared to 20-21).

However, trends in share of components within the Budget for Children (BFC) remained the same, with education holding the maximum share, followed by child development, child health and child protection having the least share.

Since SDG goals directly refer to children’s education, health, nutrition and well-being, the decreased allocations is likely to impact the achievement of goals and their targets by 2030.

This year’s budget announcement introduced a few centrally sponsored schemes related to children such as

  • Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 (this combines Umbrella ICDS Anganwadi Services, Poshan Abhiyan, Scheme for Adolescent Girls, National Creche Scheme)
  • Mission Vatsalya (this includes Child Protection Services and Child Welfare Services
  • Samarthya under Mission Shakti for Protection and Empowerment of Women (Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Creche, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, Gender Budgeting, Research, Skilling, Training, etc)

New schemes have found mention in the child budget from the Union Ministry of AYUSH and the Union Ministry of External Affairs. However, a closer look at the allocations reveals that combining schemes has actually resulted in decreased allocations in most places.

Education

The allocations for the Department of School Education and Literacy of the Union Ministry of Education dropped to Rs 53,603.16 crore (2021-22 BE) from Rs 59,368 crore (2020-21 BE), a decline of nearly 10 per cent.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education globally, and India was no exception. It announced country-wide school closures in order to contain the spread. The drop-out rates were already poor even before the pandemic.

As many as 3.22 crore children in the 6-17 age group were out of school, 31 per cent of whom have never attended any school, according to National Sample Survey (75th Round) Household Survey 2017-2018.

Anecdotal evidences show that the pandemic may result in an increase in the number of out-of-school children or those who have dropped out of the education system.

The New Education Policy (NEP) is set to roll out in 2021, and the expectation was that the Union Budget would make provisions to bringing these children back into the fold of education by enhancing access to remote learning opportunities, by incentivising access to digital infrastructure.

The sharp decline of around Rs 7,700 crore in Samagra Shiksha Abhiyaan (BE 2021-22), however, indicates that these measures seem unlikely this year. The risks increase cumulative learning loss of children and also makes them more vulnerable to child protection violations, as out of school children are often more prone to child labour, child trafficking and child marriage.

Allocations for National Scheme for Incentive to Girl Child for Secondary Education also suffered major setback of Rs 109 crore.

The allocation for the Mid-Day Meal Scheme increased by Rs 500 crores. However, significantly more allocations would be required to implement the NEP 2020 proposal of providing breakfast along with mid-day meals to improve foundational learning.

Child Health

The Budget proposal stated that the “investment on health infrastructure in this budget has increased substantially”. Thus, significant investment has been made in the overall health sector, with total allocations for Department of Health and Family Welfare increasing from Rs 65,011.80 crore (2020-21 BE) to Rs 71,268.77 crore (2021-22 BE).

The share of budget for children also saw an increase of around 15.47 per cent compared to last year.

Immunisation programmes are critical to prevent infant and under-5 mortality. At least 10 countries account for 60 per cent unvaccinated children, and 40 per cent of children unvaccinated for Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis live in just four countries, with India being one of them.

Since children may have missed out on immunisation and access to other critical health services during the pandemic, a strong response plan is required to mitigate the damage caused. The overall increase in allocations for child health, therefore, might not be adequate, assuming that the existing health structures (for immunisation) may be directed towards handling COVID-19 vaccination.

Data indicated that 28 per cent of adolescents (aged 10-19 years) in the country suffer from anaemia; adolescent girls had a higher prevalence of anaemia (40 per cent) compared to boys (18 per cent). Access to menstrual hygiene products and information related to sexual and reproductive health has been low among adolescents.

An increase of Rs 477 crores in the National Health Mission-Reproductive Child Health flexi pool may help improve the situation since adolescent-specific schemes such as Rashtriya Swasthya Kishor Karyakram flow from here.

But efforts to improve adolescent health would also require significantly more allocations towards universalisation and effective implementation of schemes such as the Rashtriya Swasthya Kishor Karyakram, School Health Programme and so on.

Child Development and Nutrition

Allocations towards child development and nutrition mainly flow from the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The total allocations for Ministry of Women and Child Development have declined this year from to Rs 24,435 (2021-22 BE) from Rs 30,007.10 crore (2020-21 BE).

The allocations towards children in Statement 12 flowing from this ministry, therefore, have also gone down by 20 per cent this year: The ministry received a total outlay of Rs 20,400.60 crore (2021-22 BE) against an allocation of Rs 25,516.41 crore (2020-21 BE).

Most critical is the reduction in allocations towards Anganwadi services and National Nutrition Mission. Introduction of Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 has merged critical schemes such as Anganwadi Services, National Nutrition Mission, National Crèche Scheme and Scheme for Adolescent girls. It received a total allocation of Rs 19,412.6 crore.

However, the combined allocation for these four schemes in 2020 was Rs 23,941.41 crore, roughly 19 per cent higher.

While the Union Budget focussed on infrastructure advancement, the establishment and refurbishment of ICDS infrastructure is not a part of this advancement. Significantly, more investment would be needed to universalise Anganwadi services, enhance infrastructure and equipment in existing Anganwadis, provision of WASH facilities and recruitment of adequate and qualified human resources. 

Child protection

Allocations for child protection have taken the biggest hit in the budget proposal FY 21-22, with a drop of more than 40 per cent as compared to FY 20-21.

As many as 148,185 cases recorded of crime against children in 2019, which meant that each day over 400 crimes were committed against children in India (NCRB 2019). 

In 2018-19, crimes against children rose by 4.5 per cent, while the overall crime in India rose by 1.6 per cent. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased children’s vulnerabilities manifold.

The closure of schools and Anganwadis, mobility restrictions and increased presence of children in the online / virtual space has exacerbated chances of child marriage, child labour, child trafficking, online abuse and exploitation and so on. In this growing climate of risks for children, the allocations towards child protection seem grossly inadequate.

The Integrated Child Development Services has been subsumed under Mission Vatsalya with a decreased allocation of Rs 900 crores. The overall allocations in Mission Vatsalya might not only be grossly inadequate to address the new challenges thrown by COVID-19, but also struggle to respond to ones that existed prior to COVID-19.

This includes issues such as inadequate investment in preventive mechanisms by strengthening community-based protection structures, trained human resource to respond to violations and creation of an overall safe and secure environment for children.

The increasing emphasis on online and blended models of education as mentioned in the NEP 2020 calls for an increase in investment towards creating robust mechanisms for children’s online safety. 

Similarly, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme has also been subsumed under Samarthya, which is part of Mission Shakti. The total allocations for Samarthya is Rs 2,522 crore as reflected in the allocations for Ministry of Women and Child Development (of which Rs 2,432 crore is reflected in Part-A of the gender budget dedicated to 100 per cent women specific programmes).

It is difficult to delineate specific allocations for this scheme due to these changes.

Estimations suggest that one percentage point rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7 percentage point increase in child labour. The COVID-19 has impacted the Indian economy and there are high chances of increase in child labour.

Thus, the stagnation of allocations towards the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) at Rs 120 crore, combined with reduction in allocations towards schemes such as Samgara Shiksha Abhiyan, seems unlikely to respond to the increasing challenge of child and adolescent labour in India. It is important to generate evidence on child and adolescent labour in India and expand the NCLP.

When it comes to child marriage, evidence shows that humanitarian crises tend to increase the chances of child marriage, especially among girls. The total effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is projected to result in 13 million additional child marriages that otherwise would not have occurred between 2020 and 2030.

The key legislation to prevent child marriage in India is the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. However, its implementation has been uneven due to various reasons. One of the reasons is the inadequate investment to back up the provisions of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, especially when it comes to supporting the functioning of child marriage prohibition officers.

Investment would also be required towards strengthening efforts for bringing about attitudinal change towards the value of the girl child and building an environment where girls not only survive, but are able to grow with dignity and reach their full potential.

It was expected that Union Budget 2021-22 would not reduce existing allocations for children, rather substantially increase them. Contrarily, it has turned into the decade’s lowest budget for children. Higher allocations for children were essential so that gains made towards education, child health and nutrition and child protection were not derailed by the pandemic.

However, the reality is far from expectations, and children continue to suffer, now more than ever. This reiterates the concern that while children may not be the face of the pandemic, they might indeed be its biggest victims.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.