The Clearinghouse on International Developments in Child, Youth and Family Policies




(Last updated November 2007)


Introduction and Overview

The Republic of India, commonly known as India, is a sovereign country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second most populous country, and the most populous liberal democracy in the world. The Indian Peninsula forms a rough triangle framed on the north by the world’s highest mountains, the Himalayas, and on the east, south, and west by oceans. India has a coastline of over seven thousand kilometres, bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the west, and the Bay of Bengal on the east. India borders Pakistan to the west, China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north-east; and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia. The majority of this land area is rural.

Home to the Indus Valley civilization and a region of historic trade routes and vast empires, the Indian subcontinent was identified with its commercial and cultural wealth for much of its long history. Four major world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated here, while Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism arrived in the first millennium CE and shaped the region's variegated culture. Gradually annexed by the British East India Company from the early eighteenth century and colonised by Great Britain from the mid-nineteenth century, India became a modern nation-state in 1947 after a struggle for independence marked by widespread use of nonviolent resistance as a means of social protest.

With the world's 4th largest economy in purchasing power and the 12th largest by exchange rates, India has made rapid economic progress in the last decade. Although the country's standard of living is projected to rise sharply in the next half-century, it currently battles high levels of poverty, illiteracy, persistent malnutrition, and environmental degradation. A pluralistic, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic society, India is also home to a diversity of wildlife in a variety of protected habitats.


India is the largest democracy in the world. The Constitution defines India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. India has a federal form of government and a bicameral parliament operating under a parliamentary system. It has three branches of governance: the Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary.

The President of India is the official head of state elected indirectly by an electoral college for a five-year term. The Prime Minister is, however, the de facto head of government and exercises most executive powers. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President, with the requirement that they enjoy the support of the party or coalition securing the majority of seats in the lower house of Parliament. As of April 2007, the President of the country was Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and the prime minister was Dr. Manmohan Singh.

The legislature of India is the bicameral Parliament, which consists of the upper house called the Rajya Sabha (Council of States), and the lower house called the Lok Sabha (House of People). The Rajya Sabha has up to 250 members serving staggered six year terms. Most are elected indirectly by the state and territorial legislatures in proportion to the state's population. The Lok Sabha's 545 members are directly elected by popular vote to represent individual constituencies for five year terms.

The executive branch consists of the President, Vice-President, and the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet being its executive committee) headed by the Prime Minister. Any minister holding a portfolio must be a member of either house of parliament. In the Indian parliamentary system, the executive is subordinate to the legislature, with the Prime Minister and his Council being directly responsible to the lower house of the parliament.

India's independent judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of India. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over disputes between states and the Centre, appellate jurisdiction over the twenty-one High Courts of India, and the power to declare union and state laws null and void if in conflict with the basic structure of the Constitution of India.

Local Administration

India is a union of 28 states and 7 union territories. The form of state governments in India is generally modeled after that of the central government. The states each have a legislature invested with the governance of state affairs. The union territories of Delhi and Pondicherry also have their own legislatures.


For most of its post-independence history, India adhered to a quasi-socialist model, with strict government control over private sector participation, foreign trade, and foreign direct investment. However, since 1991, India has gradually opened up its markets through economic reforms and reduced government controls on foreign trade and investment. Foreign exchange reserves have risen from US$5.8 billion in March 1991 to US$177 billion in January 2007, while federal and state budget deficits have reduced. Privatisation of publicly-owned companies and the opening of certain sectors to private and foreign participation has continued amid political debate.

With a GDP growth rate of 9.2% in 2006, the Indian economy is among the fastest growing in the world. It has the world's fourth largest GDP at US$4.042 trillion as measured by purchasing power parity (PPP). India's per capita income (PPP) of US$3,700 is however ranked 117th in the world. When measured in terms of USD exchange-rate, India's GDP is US$785.47 billion, which makes it the twelfth largest economy in the world. India’s diverse economy encompasses traditional village farming, modern agriculture, handicrafts, a wide range of modern industries, and a multitude of services. Services are the major source of economic growth, though two-thirds of the workforce is in agriculture. In 2005, services contributed the largest portion (60.7%) to the GDP followed by industry (19.3%) and agriculture (19.9%). Wealth distribution in India, a developing country, is fairly uneven, with the top 10% of income groups earning 33% of the income.

India has a labour force of 509.3 million, 60% of which were employed in agriculture, 12% in industry and 28% in services in 2003. Unemployment was estimated at 7.8% in 2006 down from 9.2% in 2004 (unemployment rates of some neighboring countries in 2006 were: Malaysia – 3.5%, Thailand – 2.1%, and Bangladesh – 2.5%). Women make up 22.7 percent of the total labor force. [CIA World Fact book, 2007]

Informal or unorganized sector workers dominate the Indian labor market and represent 90% of India’s work force. India’s unorganized sector is one of the largest in the world. While in the rural areas, agricultural workers form the bulk of the unorganized sector, in urban towns and cities, contract, sub-contract and migratory laborers make up most of the unorganized labor force.

Status of Women

Less than 50% (47.8%) of women 15 years and above were literate; female youth literacy rate was at 68% in 2003. Female enrollment in primary education was estimated to be 85% in 2001/02. In 2005, women held 8.3% of seats in the lower house, up from 5% in 1990. 11.6% of seats in the upper house were held by women in 2005.


The World Bank estimated that in 2003, 35% of India’s population were living on less than $1 a day (the threshold for severe poverty established by the World Bank) and 80% of the population lives under $2 a day (near poverty). The population with sustainable access to improved sanitation increased from 12% in 1990 to 30% in 2002. Population with sustainable access to an improved water source also increased from 68% in 1990 to 86% in 2002.

The major causes for poverty have been: high level of dependence on primitive methods of agriculture, rural urban divide, 75% of indian population depends on agriculture whereas the contribution of agriculture to the GDP is 20%, and while services and industry have grown at double digit figures, agriculture growth rate has dropped from 4.8% to 2%.

Efforts to alleviate poverty have been initiated by the Government of India since the early 1950s. The most important initiative has been the supply of basic commodities, particularly food at controlled prices, available throughout the country as poor spend about 80 percent of their income on food.

Programmes like Food for work and National Rural Employment Programme have attempted to use the unemployed to generate productive assets and build rural infrastructure. Other anti poverty programs include Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Programme.

In August 2005, the Indian Parliament passed the Rural Employment Guarantee Bill, the largest programme of this type in terms of cost and coverage, which promises 100 days of minimum wage employment to every rural household, in 200 of India's 600 districts. The question of whether economic reforms have reduced poverty or not has fueled debates without generating any clearcut answers, and has also put political pressure on further economic reforms, especially those involving downsizing of labour and reduction of agricultural subsidies.

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Government Agencies

A number of federal Ministries are involved in child and family welfare policies. They include:

  • Department of Education: The Federal Ministry of Human Resource Development which houses the Department of Education and the Department of Woman and Child Development. The Department of Education is responsible for both formal and non-formal education policies and programs in the country.
  • Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD): The DWCD is responsible for child and women welfare policies and programs. Programs run by the department include providing health and educational opportunities to children in the 0-6 age group, monitoring programs catering to the overall development of children and undertaking initiatives for girl-child and women empowerment. The health department works closely with the DWCD to address the health care needs of children in the 0-6 age group. The education of children after the age of 6 is the responsibility of the Education department.
  • Ministry of Health and Family Welfare: The Federal Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is the governing body for the Department of Health and is responsible for developing policies and programs that eliminate or regulate the spread of commonly occurring diseases. It also works towards ensuring that diseases such as smallpox and polio that have been or are in the process of being eliminated do not affect children.
  • Ministry of Labor: The Federal Ministry of Labor is responsible for all legislation and programs related to child labor and maternity benefits.
  • Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment: The Federal Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is responsible for the welfare of children in difficult circumstances particularly children who face abuse, neglect, street children and children in conflict with the law are the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

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Non-Government Agencies

The most distinctive characteristic of the civil society initiatives and the non-government sector in India is that the discourses and actions belonging to this realm are not directed towards the installation of democracy or a  normatively  appropriate form of government; they are in fact, directed towards making the democratic system live up to its ideals.

Political participation in India has been transformed in many ways since the 1960s. New social groups have entered the political arena and begun to use their political resources to shape the political process. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, previously excluded from politics because of their position at the bottom of India’s social hierarchy, have begun to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by India’s democracy. Women and environmentalists constitute new political categories that transcend traditional distinctions. The spread of social movements and voluntary organizations has shown that despite the difficulties of India’s political parties and state institutions, India’s democratic tendency continues to thrive. 

Though the term NGO became popular in India only in the 1980s, the voluntary sector has an older tradition. The earliest forms of voluntary organizations were started by Gandhi to fill in the gaps left by the government in the development process. Volunteers organized handloom weavers in villages to form cooperatives through which they could market their products directly in the cities. Similar cooperatives were later set up in areas like marketing of dairy products and fish. In almost all these cases, the volunteers helped in other areas of development - running literacy classes for adults at night, for example.

Beginning in the 1970s, activists began to form broad-based social movements, which proved powerful advocates for interests that they perceived as neglected by the state and political parties. Perhaps the most powerful ones have been: the Farmers’ movement, which organized hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in New Delhi and pressured the government for higher prices on agricultural commodities and more investment in rural areas; the Dalit movement, which brought together members of Scheduled Castes led by the Dalit Panthers, to rearticulate the identity of former Untouchables; the Women’s movement that mobilized women from an array of diverse organizations to define and promote women’s issues; and, more recently, an Environmental movement that has attempted to compel the government to be more responsive to environmental concerns and has attempted to redefine the concept of “development” to include respect for indigenous cultures and environmental sustainability.

The proliferation of voluntary or nongovernmental organizations in 1980s also led to their becoming a specialized group. Task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, bring citizen concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation through provision of information. Some are organized around specific issues, such as human rights, environment or health. While most of the NGOs work at the grassroots level with communities, some provide analysis and expertise, serve as early warning mechanisms and help monitor and implement international agreements.

Some typical forms of NGOs in India are: Advocacy NGOs; consultancy organizations,  Research Organizations: training / Capacity Building Organizations; networking Organizations: mother NGOs: which receive funds as well as disburse funds; grassroots organizations: city based organizations:National and international organizations: Self Help Groups: and religious NGOs: A large percentage of NGO Funding goes to religious based Organisations. e.g. Siddhivinayak Trust in Mumbai. .

The number of NGOs in India was estimated to be over 2 million in 2005. To some extent, the rise of voluntary organizations has been sponsored by the Indian state. For instance, the central government’s Seventh Five-Year Plan of fiscal years 1985-1989 recognized the contributions of voluntary organizations in accelerating development and substantially increased their funding.

NGOs obtain funding from three different areas: the Government, the public at large and foreign development agencies. A 1987 survey of 1,273 voluntary agencies reported that 47 percent received some form of funding from the central government. Voluntary organizations also have thrived on foreign donations, which in 1991-92 contributed more than US$400 million to some 15,000 organizations. More recent studies estimate that NGOs in India receive half a billion dollars a year in foreign funding, making these international donations the largest single source of funding for the non-government sector in India.

It is estimated than 73.4% of the registered NGOs are small agencies with one or less paid staff. Those between 2 to 5 paid staff account for 13.3%, between 6 to 10 paid staff – 4.8% and more than 10 paid staff 8.5%. A recent study found that of the 19.5 million persons involved in the NGO sector in India, 85% were volunteers and 15% were paid staff [; PRIA, India].

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Demographic Profile

With more than 1 billion inhabitants, India ranks second only to China among the world’s most populous countries. Its people are culturally diverse, and religion plays an important role in the life of the country. The majority of the country’s population (70%) live in the 638,588 rural villages and only a l minority (30%) live in urban towns and cities.

With a population growth rate of 1.44%, India adds more people to the world than any other country and accounts for 21% of the annual increment in world population. Despite a steadily decreasing total fertility rate (from 6 in 1947 to 2.73 in 2006), the population growth rate has not declined at the same pace (from 1.8% in 2000 to 1.38% in 2006).  Infant mortality rate has declined from 129 per 1000 live births in 1970 to 55 per 1000 live births in 2006 and life expectancy at birth has risen from 41 years in 1951 to 65 years in 2006.

India has a relatively young population with a median age of 25 years. In 2006, the 0-14 age group comprised 31% of the population, the 15-64 age group comprised 64% and the population and the 65 and above age group comprised 5% of the population. The sex ratio of the population has declined from 951 females per 1000 males in 1950 to 933 females per 1000 males in 2000.

The Child Sex Ratio (0-6 years) is considered a better indicator (than sex ratio of the population) of the status of girl children in the South Asian environment which is hostile to females in the early ages. India has shown a disturbing decline of eighteen percentage points in the Child Sex Ratio between 1991 (945 per 1000 males) and 2001 (927 per 1000 males). Three main factors that are responsible for this decline are sex-selective abortion, female infanticide and neglect/discrimination of girl children in India.

India has a diverse religious and ethnic population. The three main ethnic groups are the Indo-Aryans (70%), the Dravidians (25%) and the Mongolians (3%). The religious groups in India comprise Hindus (81%), Muslims (12%), Christians (2%), Sikhs (2%) and Buddhists, Jains and Parsis (3%). Eight hundred  distinct languages are spoken in the Indian sub-continent [Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, 2005].

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Social Protection

Social protection/social security is listed in the Concurrent List of the Constitution and is the responsibility of both the Centre and the States. The task of providing meaningful social security continues to be challenging in view of financial as well as operational constraints, high incidence of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and the large size of the unorganized/informal sector.

The formal social security system is comprised of private sector schemes of the Employees Provident Fund Organization (EPFO); public sector pension schemes; and voluntary savings schemes. The EPFO, a federal government agency, administers and supervises a defined contribution (DC) scheme - the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), established in 1952, a defined benefits (DB) Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS), established in 1995, and an Employees Deposit Linked Insurance Scheme (EDLI), established in 1976. All its schemes are for organized sector employees, covering establishments employing 20 or more persons and recognized as a government organization, educational institution, or enterprise registered under Indian Factories, Bidi and Cigar Workers, Co-operative Societies and Provident Funds Acts. This sector comprises a mere 10% of the total work force. The remaining 90% employed in the unorganized sector do not have access to any social security benefits.

Unorganized sector employment comprises (a) self-employment in informal enterprises (small or unregistered)- including employers, employees, own account operators and unpaid family workers and (b) wage-based employment undertaken without an employment contract in both informal and formal sector enterprises.

Most of the States/Union Territories have pension schemes for the old and disabled, but due to eligibility criteria of income and age, only about 9% of the old-age population have the benefit of a pension. In the last few years, group insurance schemes for landless agricultural laborers, life insurance scheme for Integrated Rural Development Program (lRDP) beneficiaries and group insurance for certain categories of workers belonging to weaker sections of the society have been introduced. The coverage under permanent social security measures, however, continues to be small.

Emphasis is, therefore, now on transitory measures of social security. These include: special employment and anti-poverty programs, welfare programs for the development of women, children, the weaker sections of the society, handicapped and disabled persons; a Public Distribution System for supply of essential commodities at low prices; and subsidized education and basic health care. The National Renewal Fund has been established to fund schemes for compensation, retraining and redeployment of workers affected by economic restructuring [Wasana and Ranadev, 2002].

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Child, Youth and Family Policy Regimes

Status of Children

The Government does not demonstrate a strong commitment to children’s rights and welfare. According to the Government’s statistics from 2003, 165 million of the 200 million children between the ages 6-14 (82.5%) attend school. In contrast to the Government’s figures, UNICEF reported that of a primary school-age population of approximately 203 million, approximately 120 million children attended school. However, UNICEF reported that 76.2 percent of all children aged 11 to 13 years were attending school. A significant gender gap existed in school attendance, particularly at the secondary level, where boys outnumbered girls 60 to 40 percent, according to the latest government statistics released in 2001.

The law prohibits child abuse; however, there were societal patterns of abuse of children, and the Government did not release comprehensive statistics regarding child abuse. In July, 2007 the Delhi High Court ruled that victims of child abuse should not be examined in an open courtroom and should be allowed to give testimony in a cordial and friendly environment. The court also stated that a victim’s father could be present and that the lawyer of the accused could not directly question the child. Abuse of children in both public and private educational institutions was a problem. Schoolteachers often beat children.

The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act prohibits child marriage, a traditional practice in the northern part of the country, and raised the age requirement for marriage for girls to 18; however, the Government has failed to enforce the Act. Each year in April and May, during the Hindu festival of Askhay Tritiya, thousands of child marriages are performed in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. Although state governments conduct awareness campaigns, enforcement is weak, and the practice is accepted in certain communities.

Trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children is a problem (See Child Trafficking section). Female infanticide is a problem, and the traditional preference for male children continues. According to statistics, the natural pattern of child sex distribution suggested there should be 952 girls for every 1,000 boys, but in the last 2 years in the state of Tamil Nadu, the ratio has been as low as 727 in some rural areas of the state, according to the 2001 Census. Sex selective feticide is the cause for the drop. Although the law prohibits the use of amniocentesis and sonogram tests for sex determination, NGOs in the area reported that family planning centers in the state reveal the sex of the fetus, and the Government does not effectively enforce the law prohibiting termination of a pregnancy for sexual preference. In addition, parents often give priority in health care and nutrition to male infants. Women’s rights groups point out that the burden of providing girls with an adequate dowry is a factor that made daughters less desirable. The states of Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, parts of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Karnataka reported particularly low male/female ratios, with Punjab reporting the lowest statewide totals in the country: 793 females to 1000 males.

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Maternity Benefits

The Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, entitles every woman working in the organized sector to a fully paid leave for a period of 12 weeks. Of this 6 weeks are to be taken before the birth of the child and 6 weeks immediately after the birth of the child. To be entitled to this, a woman must have worked for 80 days prior to the date of her expected delivery. In the case of a miscarriage, a woman is entitled to a total of 6 weeks of paid leave from the day of the miscarriage. For any illness arising out of pregnancy, delivery, miscarriage or premature birth, a woman can take leave for one additional month.

Only a small fraction of the total women in the labor force are eligible  for maternity benefits. In 2006, only 7% of the total labor force are  in the organized or formal sector. Of this, only 33%is comprised of women and the rest (67%) are men, indicating that a very small minority  (around 4-5 %) of women are actually entitled to maternity benefits.

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Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC)

The history of early childhood education in India dates back to the 1890s, when kindergarten was started in the country. Despite an early start, early childhood education activities remained scattered, concentrated in urban settings, restricted to certain regions in the country, and confined to those who could afford such services. It was not until the creation of the Central Social Welfare Board in 1953 that the national government started playing a role on a broader scale. The board sponsored voluntary agencies that would set up balwadis (kindergartens) for the children of the less privileged. The objective of the program was to shift the focus towards rural areas and the poor and to emphasize the integral development of the child rather than preschool education alone.

In 1974, the national government launched the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), India’s flagship Early Childhood Care and Education program and the world’s largest attempt to provide a package of services to the most vulnerable sectors of the population. The initiative started with 33 modest projects reaching about 150,000 young children. Today, it has expanded to nearly 700,000 anganwadis (child-care centers) in almost every block in the country. It is estimated that the program reaches over 23 million children (under the age of  6) from disadvantaged groups. Of these, 10,2 million (between the ages of 3-6, participate in center-based pre-school learning activities. However, barely one-fourth of these children are covered under the supplementary nutrition component of the program.

The program concentrates on urban slums, tribal areas and the more remote and backward rural regions of the country.

The ICDS Package consists of the following basic services:

  • Supplementary nutrition
  • Immunization
  • Health check-ups and referral
  • Preschool education for children aged 3 to 6
  • Health and nutrition for women

The focal point for the delivery of these services is the anganwadi (courtyard garden), a term borrowed from the simple child care centre which could be run in the courtyard of any village home. The anganwadi worker, the key worker and first paraprofessional in the child care service, is usually a local woman. She is considered a community worker earning a small honorarium for the services she renders to the community. The cost of the ICDS program averages $10-$22 per child a year.

Early Childhood Coordination Mechanisms in India

Name Location Membership Functions

National Standing Committee for Early Childhood Education



Department of Elementary Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resources



Members of the Departments of Health, Women and Child Development, National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development, National Council for Educational Research and Training, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, and representatives of civil society 


To address the coordination issue in early childhood education on a permanent basis


Evaluation studies have found that, despite some unevenness in the quality of services, the ICDS program has had a positive impact on the survival, growth, and development of young children. For example, a study conducted in rural areas of three southern states (Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka) found that the program had a significant impact on the psycho-social development of children, for both boys and girls. The study also showed that undernourished ICDS beneficiaries attained higher developmental scores than well-nourished children who were not enrolled in the program. A national study conducted in 1992 by the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development confirmed the positive impact of ICDS. Where the program was operating, there were lower percentages of low-birth-weight babies, lower infant mortality rates, higher immunization coverage, higher utilization rates for health services, and better child nutrition. Further, the percentage of severely malnourished children declined, the positive effects of preschool were evident, and a larger percentage of mothers were getting their children medically examined. Over the last three decades, ICDS has demonstrated its effectiveness. Consequently, the Government of India has renewed its commitment to making the program universally available in order to achieve equality of opportunity for all Indian children.

Other than the ICDS program, a national crèche fund established by the government gives grants to voluntary organizations to set up day care facilities for children of working mothers. Children of migrant, casual, construction or agricultural laborers use these crèches.  In recent years, the educational function of these centers has come under great scrutiny. They are today mostly centers where food is served to children and mothers free-of-cost.

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Child Education

52% of the population in India is literate. More men are literate (65.5%) than women (47.7%). The literacy rate in India is much below that of other Asian countries including the Philippines (94.6%), Singapore (93.5%) and Indonesia (83.3%). The disparity between the literacy levels among men and women is very stark with female literacy levels in India being among the lowest in Asia.

Elementary Education is recognized as a fundamental right of all citizens in India. The Supreme Court of India in its judgment in (1993) held that all citizens have a fundamental right to education up to the age of 14 years. The Government of India then introduced the 83rd Constitutional Amendment Bill in Parliament in 1997 to make education a fundamental right of all children up to the age of 6-14 years. In accordance with the constitutional commitment, provision of universal elementary education has been a salient feature of National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986 and the Program of Action (POA) 1992. The most prominent and ambitious project is the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) (Education for All Program) launched in 2001. The SSA aims to achieve Universalisation of Elementary Education (UEE) to all children in the 6-14 age group through a time bound integrated approach (in partnership with states) by 2010.

The government of India is currently in the process of formulating the Right to Education Bill – 2005.

The system is divided into preprimary, primary, middle, secondary (or high school), and higher levels. Preprimary is usually composed of Lower Kindergarten and Upper Kindergarten, where primary reading and writing skills are developed. Primary school includes children of ages 6 to 11, organized into classes 1 through 5. Middle school pupils aged 11 through 14 are organized into classes 6 through 8, and high school students ages 14 through 17  are enrolled in classes 9 through 12. Higher Education in India provides an opportunity to specialize in a field and includes technical schools (such as the Indian Institutes of Technology), colleges, and universities.

  • In India, the main types of schools are those controlled by:
  • The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) board;
  • The Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) board;
  • The state government and
  • International schools – these schools mimic the schools in the west in pattern and syllabi and mainly comprise of immigrant and of children of richer Indians that can afford it

During the eighth five-year plan, the target of “universalizing” elementary education was divided into three broad parameters: Universal Access, Universal Retention and Universal Achievement i.e. making education accessible to children, making sure that they continue education and finally, achieving goals. As a result of education programs, by the end of 2000, 94% of India’s rural population had primary schools within one km and 84% had upper primary schools within 3 km. Special efforts have made to enroll children belonging to Scheduled Castes, Schedule Tribes and girls.

Education is free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 to 14. The enrollment in primary and upper-primary schools has gone up considerably since the first five-year plan. So has the number of primary and upper-primary schools. In 1950-51, only 3.1 million students had enrolled for primary education. In 1997-98, this figure was 39.5 million. In 2002/2003, an estimated 82% of children in the age group of 6-14 were enrolled. In 2000 an estimated 95% of the rural population had a primary school within 1 km (0.62 miles) and about 85% population had a an upper primary school within 3km (1.9 miles).

The Government expenditure on Education increased from 3.7% of the GDP in 1990 to 4.1% of the GDP between 2000 -2002. However public expenditure on education (as % of total government expenditure) increased only slightly during this period from 12.2% to 12.7%. Between 2000/2002, 38.4% of government expenditure on education was spent on pre-primary and primary education (a decline from 38.9% spent in 1990); 40.1% was spent on secondary education (a large increase from 27% spent in 1990) and 20.3% was spent on tertiary education (an increase from 14.9% spent in 1990). Nearly 97% of the Central Government expenditure on elementary education goes towards the payment of teachers’ salaries.

In 1979-80, the Government of India, Department of Education launched a program of Non-Formal Education (NFE) for children of 6-14 years age group, who cannot join regular schools. These children include school drop-outs, working children, children from areas without easy access to schools etc. The initial focus of the scheme was on ten educationally backward states. Later, it was extended to urban slums, hilly, tribal and desert areas in other states as well. The program is now functional in 25 states/UTs. Hundred percent assistance is given to voluntary organizations for running NFE centers.

Bal Bhavans (child centers), which are operational all over India, aim to enhance creative and sports skills of children in the age group 5-16 years. There are various State and District Bal Bhavans, which conduct programs in fine-arts, aero-modeling, computer-education, sports, martial arts, performing arts etc. They are also equipped with libraries with books for children. New Delhi alone has 52 Bal Bhavan centers. The National Bal Bhavan is an autonomous institution under the Department of Education. It provides general guidance, training facility and transfer of information to State and District Bal Bhavans situated all over India. [UNDP Human Development Report, 2002; Education Statistics, Department of Education, India]

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Child Health

The National Health Policy 2002 (NHP-2002) was formulated with the main objective of achieving an acceptable standard of good health amongst the general population of the country. The approach it adopted was - increase access to the decentralized public health system by establishing new infrastructure in deficient areas, and by upgrading infrastructure in existing institutions. Overriding importance was to be given to ensuring a more equitable access to health services across the social and geographical expanse of the country. Emphasis was also given to increasing the aggregate public health investment through a substantially increased contribution by the Central Government. This initiative was expected to strengthen the capacity of the public health administration at the State level to render effective service delivery. The contribution of the private sector in providing health services was also to be much enhanced, particularly for the population group which can afford to pay for services. It stated that primacy would be given to preventive and first-line curative initiatives at the primary health level through increased sectoral share of allocation. Emphasis would also be laid on rational use of drugs within the allopathic system. It also ensured increased access to tried and tested systems of traditional medicine.

Total investment in health (as a percentage of GDP) increased from 5.1% in 1998 to 6.1% in 2002. Of this, public expenditure on health was 1.3% of GDP and private expenditure on health was 4.8%. The NHP-2002 planned to increase health sector expenditure to 6 percent of GDP, with 2 percent of GDP being contributed as public health investment, by the year 2010. Under the constitutional structure, public health is the responsibility of the States. In this framework, it is expected that the principal contribution for the funding of public health services will be from the resources of the States, with some supplementary input from Central resources. So far the contribution of Central resources to the overall public health funding has been limited to about 15 percent. The NHP-2002 plans to increase the central government’s contribution to 25 percent and the state government’s allocation to 8% by 2010.

Since early 1990s, the emphasis in health infrastructure has been towards consolidation and operationalization, rather than on major expansion of the infrastructure. The existing public health infrastructure is far from satisfactory. Health care constraints include deficiency of skilled personnel, lack of basic facilities and simple equipment, etc. Also, staff shortages continue to plague the services at all levels. A substantial part of the physical infrastructure has still to be completed.

More than one-quarter of the population now live in urban areas, with about 40-50% of those in the metropolitan and large cities living in urban slums, with primary health care provided by health posts. Very often these health posts are outside slum areas, making access difficult. They also lack basic drugs, equipment and technical support.

Health education and promotion has been an integral component of all national health and family welfare programs. National health programs are supported with health education and promotion strategies and activities specifically designed to suit program needs. Such national programs include those for leprosy eradication, tuberculosis control, malaria eradication, and HIV/AIDS control, as well as the national iodine deficiency disorder program and the environmental health and sanitation program. NGOs and other professional organizations have joined with government agencies all around the country to improve health education.         

The health of children in India continues to be a matter of grave concern, especially in a scenario of growing privatization of health care services and increasing inaccessibility for the poor. While the constitution lays down the responsibilities of the state with respect to health care, there is no law addressing the issue of public health. Children’s health care needs continue to be in great part dealt under the Reproductive and Child Health Program of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, with a focus on reproductive health, safe motherhood and child survival. The other health needs of children are  addressed by the country’s primary health care system; with very little attempt to address these needs specifically or separately. Even the National Health Policy of 2000 does not mention children as a separate category.

Despite improvements in the health care system in the last 30 years, lives continue to be lost to early childhood illnesses, poor or inadequate new born care and childbirth-related causes. 63 infants per every 1000 born alive die before the age of one in India. For those who do survive, the prevalence of early childhood illnesses poses a serious threat to their growth and development. More than two million children are known to die each year from preventable infections including measles and tetanus. In addition is the problem of malnutrition, which severely affects a child’s ability to learn and grow. One in every three of the world’s malnourished children lives in India and about 50 percent of all childhood deaths in India are attributable to malnutrition.

Due to their lower social status, girls are far more at risk of malnutrition than boys their age. Although one of the major causes for malnutrition is inadequate food intake, it is influenced by other factors too such as the availability of health services and access to them, the availability of care for the child and the quality of care which are all extremely poor particularly in far-flung rural areas of the country. [UNICEF, 2002]


India has had a sharp increase in the estimated number of HIV infections, from a few thousand in the early 1990s to around 2.5  million children and adults living with HIV/AIDS in 2007.   Earlier estimates of 5.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS in India was revised by the government and the UN in 2007 to less than half of previous estimates.  As a result, instead of having the largest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the world, India is now in third place, behind South Africa, with 5.5 million, and Nigeria, with 2.9 million (NY Times, 2007)  . With a population of over one billion, the HIV epidemics in India will have a major impact on the overall spread of HIV in Asia and the Pacific and indeed worldwide.

The first case of HIV infection in India was diagnosed among commercial sex workers in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in 1986. Soon after, a number of screening centers were established throughout the country. Initially the focus was on screening foreigners, especially foreign students. Gradually, the focus moved on to screening blood banks. By early 1987, efforts were made up to set up a national network of HIV screening centers in major urban areas.

A National AIDS Control Program was launched in 1987 with the program activities covering surveillance, screening blood and blood products and health education. In 1992 the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) was established. NACO carries out India’s National AIDS Program, which includes the formulation of policy, prevention and control programs.

The spread of HIV within the country is as diverse as the societal patterns between its different regions, states and metropolitan areas. In fact, India’s epidemic is made up of a number of epidemics, and in some places they occur within the same state. The epidemics vary from states with mainly heterosexual transmission of HIV, to some states where injecting drug use is the main route of HIV transmission. Both tracking the epidemic and implementing effective programs poses a serious challenge to the authorities and communities in India.

It would be easy to underestimate the challenge of HIV/AIDS in India. India has a large population and population density, low literacy levels and consequently low levels of awareness, and HIV/AIDS is one of the most challenging public health problems ever faced by the country.

Obtaining data on the number of children orphaned by AIDS is difficult. It is believed that the proportion of children in India orphaned by AIDS is far lower than in sub-Saharan Africa but because of India’s huge population the actual number of children already orphaned by AIDS is very high. In 2001 the number of orphaned children was already estimated at 1.2 million. Although children are not yet being orphaned by HIV/AIDS on a large scale in most cities, studies have shown that the problem of orphans in some urban slum areas of India is already severe.

In 2001, the government adopted the National AIDS Prevention and Control Policy. However it is still debatable as to whether there is sufficient commitment to combating the epidemic at the government level. Many Indians in positions of power refuse to accept that their country faces a grave threat from the epidemic. And as the epidemic spreads, the battle against AIDS is mired by a lack of consensus on the extent of the pandemic, the “right strategy” to combat it, and how to deal frankly with sexuality. [HIV and AIDS in India,]

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Special Groups of Children

Girl Children

Girl children have always been a marginalized and vulnerable group in Indian society. Prejudices against girls are reflected by indicators such as female infanticide, child marriage of girls and the poor male-female ratio in the country. In a concerted effort to correct this trend, programs such as the Girl Development Program (GDP) and the National Program for the education of girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL) have been initiated.

The GDP aims to change perceptions of society towards girl children and their mothers, increase the enrollment and retention of girl children in education, and assist girls in becoming economically independent. Under this program, financial assistance is provided to families living in rural and urban areas that are identified as having an income below the poverty line for up to 2 girl children. This assistance includes a post-birth grant and an educational scholarship till middle school. The NPEGEL was started with the objective of ensuring that girls in backward regions (with a female literacy level lower than the national average and a gender gap greater than the national average) receive elementary education. The strategy that the initiative adopted was focused on involving local communities, teachers and NGOs to participate in the education of girl children. [US Department of State, 2006]

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Child Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or bonded labor, including by children; however, such practices remain widespread. The Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act prohibits all bonded labor by adults and children. Offenders may be sentenced up to 3 years in prison, but prosecutions are rare. Enforcement of this statute, which was the responsibility of state and local governments, varies from state to state and generally is not effective due to inadequate resources and to societal acceptance of bonded or forced labor. NGOs estimated that there were 20 to 65 million bonded laborers in the country, including a large number of children. According to a Government report, more than 85 percent of bonded laborers belonged to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

Female bondage, forced prostitution, and trafficking in women and children for the purpose of prostitution are widespread problems. According to press reports, prison officials use prisoners as domestic servants and sell female prisoners to brothels. Devadasis, defined as prepubescent girls given to a Hindu deity or temple as “servants of God,” are taken from their families and required to provide sexual services to priests and high caste Hindus. Reportedly many of the girls eventually are sold to urban brothels.

There is no overall minimum age for child labor. However, work by children under 14 years of age is barred completely in “hazardous industries,” which includes passenger goods and mail transport by railway. In occupations and processes in which child labor is permitted, work by children is permissible only for 6 hours between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., with 1 day’s rest weekly. In addition to industries that utilize forced or indentured child labor, there was evidence that child labor is used in the following industries: Hand-knotted carpets; gemstone polishing; leather goods; and sporting goods.

The Government assists working children through the National Child Labor Project, which is established in more than 3,700 schools. Government efforts to eliminate child labor affect only a small fraction of children in the workplace. A Supreme Court decision increased penalties for employers of children in hazardous industries to $430 (Rs 20,000) per child employed, and established a welfare fund for formerly employed children. The Government is required to find employment for an adult member of the child’s family or pay $108 (Rs 5,000) to the family. According to the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, the authorities were pursuing some 6,000 cases against employers.

Estimates of the number of child laborers vary widely. The 2001 census recorded 12.66 million working children between the ages of five and 14, with 90 percent of the child workers from rural areas. NGOs claim there were up to 115 million working children. The proportion of working children to the child population between the ages of five and 14, declined from 5.4 percent to 5 percent between 1991 and 2001. The government's national sample survey from 2004 estimated the number of working children in the age group of 5 to 14 at 16.4 million. The ILO estimated the number of child workers at 44 million. Most, if not all, of the 87 million children not in school do housework, work on family farms, work alongside their parents as paid agricultural laborers, or work as domestic servants. In April 2006, UNICEF reported that an estimated 14 percent of children between the ages of five and 14 were engaged in labor. According to the 2001 census figures, released in August 2005, out of 226 million children aged 5-14, 65.3 million (29 percent) had not attended any educational institutes. The census documented that children worked in the informal sector, often in private homes, with the highest rate (15 percent) in Uttar Pradesh. Unofficial sources claimed that between 25 and 30 million children worked, mainly in the domestic and agricultural sectors.

The working conditions of domestic servants and children in the workplace often amount to bonded labor. Children sent from their homes to work because their parents cannot afford to feed them, or in order to pay off a debt incurred by a parent or relative, have no choice. There are no universally accepted figures for the number of bonded child laborers. However, in the carpet industry alone, human rights organizations estimate that there are as many as 300,000 children working, many of them under conditions that amount to bonded labor. Officials claim that they are unable to stop this practice because the children are working with their parents’ consent. In addition, there is a reasonable basis to believe that products are produced using forced or indentured child labor in the following industries: brassware; hand-knotted wool carpets; explosive fireworks; footwear; hand-blown glass bangles; hand-made locks; hand-dipped matches; hand-broken quarried stones; hand-spun silk thread and hand-loomed silk cloth; hand-made bricks; and beedis (hand-rolled cigarettes). A number of these industries expose children to particularly hazardous work conditions. In 2000, the Government issued a notification prohibiting government employees from hiring children as domestic help.

The enforcement of child labor laws is the responsibility of the state governments; however, enforcement is inadequate, especially in the informal sector in which most children are employed. In 2006, the government passed a tighter ban on child labor which banned the hiring of children under 14 to work in private homes as maids or in restaurants and hotels as low-paid waiters.  However, the continuing prevalence of child labor is attributed to social acceptance of the practice, the failure of the state and federal governments to enforce compulsory education and child labor legislation, and economic hardships faced by families.

The Government cooperates with UNICEF, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the ILO in its efforts to eliminate child labor. The Government participates in the ILO’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC). Approximately 145,000 children were removed from work and received education and stipends through IPEC programs since they began in the country in 1992 [US Department of State].

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Child Trafficking

The Constitution and the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA), supplemented by the Indian Penal Code, prohibit trafficking in human beings, and the law contains severe penalties for violations; however, trafficking in persons is a significant problem. The ITPA toughened penalties for trafficking in children, particularly by focusing on traffickers, pimps, landlords, and brothel operators, while protecting underage girls as victims. Conviction for an offense committed against a child (under 16 years) results in imprisonment for 7 years to life. In the case of minors (16 to 18 years), the punishment is from 7 to 14 years. Other penalties under the Act range from minimum terms of imprisonment of 1 year for brothel keeping, to minimum terms of 7 years to life imprisonment for detaining a person, with or without consent, for prostitution.

Although the police are charged with enforcing the country’s laws on prostitution and trafficking in women and children, NGOs, observers, and women in prostitution say that police actions are often a part of the problem. NGOs allege that corruption at the enforcement level helps perpetuate trafficking.

India is a significant source, transit point, and destination for numerous trafficked persons, primarily for the purposes of prostitution and forced labor. There were an estimated 500,000 child prostitutes nationwide in 2004. More than 2.3 million girls and women are believed to be working in the sex industry within the country, and experts believe that more than 200,000 persons are trafficked into, within, or through the country annually. Women’s rights organizations and NGOs estimate that more than 12,000 and perhaps as many as 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the country annually from neighboring states for commercial sexual exploitation. According to an International Labor Organization (ILO) estimate, 15% of the country’s estimated 2.3 million prostitutes are children, while the U.N. reports that an estimated 40% are below 18 years of age. Tribals make up a large proportion of the women forced into sexual exploitation.

India is a destination country for Nepali and Bangladeshi women and girls trafficked for the purpose of labor and prostitution. Internal trafficking of women and children is widespread. To a lesser extent, the country is an origin for women and children trafficked to other countries in Asia, the Middle East, and the West. India also serves as a transit point for Bangladeshi girls and women trafficked for sexual exploitation to Pakistan, and for boys trafficked to the Gulf States to work as camel jockeys. NGOs report that sexual exploitation of children for sex tourism has increased sharply in the states of Goa and Kerala.

Trafficking of children for commercial sexual exploitation from Nepal and from Bangladesh is estimated at 6,000 to 10,000 annually from each country. Girls as young as 7 years of age are trafficked from economically depressed neighborhoods in Nepal, Bangladesh, and rural areas of the country to the major prostitution centers of Mumbai, Calcutta, and New Delhi. NGOs estimate that there are approximately 100,000 to 200,000 women and girls working in brothels in Mumbai and 40,000 to 100,000 in Calcutta. In West Bengal, the organized traffic in illegal Bangladeshi immigrants is a principal source of bonded labor. Calcutta is a convenient transit point for traffickers who send Bangladeshis to New Delhi, Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh, and the Middle East.

Within the country, women from economically depressed areas often move into the cities seeking greater economic opportunities, and once there are often forced by traffickers into prostitution. In some cases, family members sell young girls into prostitution. Extreme poverty, combined with the low social status of women, often results in parents handing over their children to strangers for what they believe is employment or marriage. In some instances, parents receive payments or the promise that their children would send wages back home.

Many indigenous tribal women are forced into sexual exploitation. According to the Indian Center for Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, more than 40,000 tribal women, mainly from Orissa and Bihar, are forced into economic and sexual exploitation; many come from tribes driven off their land by national park schemes. A Haryana-based NGO revealed widespread trafficking of teenaged girls and young boys from poverty-stricken Assam to wealthier Haryana and Punjab for sexual slavery under the pretext of entering into arranged marriages or for forced labor.

The National Council of Women (NCW) reported that organized crime plays a significant role in the country’s sex trafficking trade and that trafficked women and children are frequently subjected to extortion, beatings, and rape. Although a few women are abducted forcibly or drugged, most are trafficked through false offers of marriage, employment, or shelter. Poverty, illiteracy, and lack of employment opportunities contribute to the trafficking problem as well as police corruption and collusion. NGOs allege that issues such as ignorance, a lack of political resolve, and corruption at the enforcement level perpetuate the problem.

The Government cooperates with groups in Nepal and Bangladesh to deal with the problem and has begun to negotiate bilateral anti-trafficking agreements. Training and informational meetings have taken place.  Efforts to improve NGO coordination are being made.

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Children in Conflict with the Law

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act formulated in 2000 lays down guidelines for the adjudication and disposition of matters relating to persons under the age of 18 in conflict with the law. As per the guidelines, the federal Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment provides 50% assistance to state governments for the establishment and maintenance of infrastructure that provide a minimum standard of juvenile services and ensure that juveniles offenders never have to be lodged in prisons.

Juvenile homes run by the state and voluntary organizations provide vocational and skills training to children staying there. The Ministry has so far assisted 287 observation homes, 290 juvenile homes, 35 special homes and 50 after care institutions in 22 states. This is, however, far short of the demand for care for juvenile offenders. This shortage often results in children staying among adult offenders in regular prisons. [US Department of State]

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Street Children, Abused and Neglected Children

Protection and Care of Street children and abused and neglected children is also elaborated under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. There are two federally run programs for street children - an integrated program for street children and a 24-hour child helpline.

The Integrated Program for Street Children (IPSC) attempts to protect children without homes and family ties such as, street children, children of sex workers, children of pavement dwellers, who are especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by providing them shelter, nutrition, health care, education, and recreational facilities. Some of the initiatives undertaken under IPSC include: non-formal education and school-enrollment; reintegration of children with their families; and placement of destitute children in foster homes; vocational training; and occupational placement of children. Shelters for street and abused and neglected children counsel children, to prevent them from engaging in drug abuse and getting infected with HIV/AIDS.

The Child Line Service is a 24 hours free phone service, which can be accessed by a child in distress or an adult on his/her behalf. The service provides emergency assistance to a child and is subsequently based upon the child’s need. The child is referred to an appropriate organization for long-term follow-up and care. NGOs and civil service organizations play a very significant role in keeping children off the streets and rehabilitating abused and neglected children [US Department of State].

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* Research and Reported by Manita C. Rao


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