The days of childhood are probably the most beautiful days of our lives; you don’t have to worry about things that adults worry about. Nonetheless, you have your own set of problems. Like you trying to avoid drinking that extra glass of milk. That extra set of Pokemon cards that your friend has, and you don’t. The latest game in the market that you can’t wait to lay your hands upon once you score a 90+ in your final term, and the apprehension of getting caught while wolfing that bar of chocolate from the fridge when everybody is asleep at night. These were all enormous problems that demanded all our time and attention. The 21st century has also added gadgets to the set of must-haves thanks to technology, making today the most beautiful time to be a kid.
Unfortunately, this is true for only a handful of children in India.
As you might have seen in every major city, as you stop at a traffic signal the first thing you would notice is an army of children knocking on your car’s window. They try to persuade you to buy anything from an assortment his/her family is selling on the road. The proceeds from your purchase would probably result in a meal for the family. Childhood for them, perhaps, is not as beautiful as all of us remember it to be. For them the milk is precious, school a dream, chocolate a luxury and reality, desolate and glum.
The key question to consider here is why despite being growing at a mind-numbing rate, India has not been able to solve this basic problem of skilling and healthcare? India is ranked 130th on the Human Development Index and in some of the indices we are worse off than our neighbor Bangladesh. The point to note here is that the gross national income of Bangladesh is half of that of India. We are blessed with a demographic dividend, with almost half our population under the age of 25. Contrast it with the fact that about 38 percent of our children below five years of age are stunted and malnourished. We have an infant mortality rate of 35 per 1000 births where it is 28 for Bangladesh and 8.5 for China. The situation indeed is grim.
The drive towards primary education in the recent past in India was a huge success in terms of enrolment. With about a 100 percent enrolment in primary education but as we move up the ladder, we are not able to retain even 20 percent of them till college. Enrolment is only one piece of the puzzle. When we talk about quality, the situation is abysmal. A survey by the International Journal of Development Research found that after completing primary education one in 9 students couldn’t recognize any word, letter or number. 14.1 percent could recognize only letters and 14.9 percent could only read a word. A Third of our children are unable to read, write or solve simple arithmetic problems after completing primary education.
If things do not improve drastically in the short term, India is most likely to miss the bus, converting its demographic dividend into a demographic disaster. It is high time that the youth take a keen interest in the issue and serve as the change agents. We cannot afford to ignore a third of our population as we move forward on our journey to become the next supplier to the world. It is only by educating our children and keeping them healthy that we will be able to achieve this feat. This Children’s day we urge you to try and help one child fulfill that dream of completing school or gift them a healthy meal because every child deserves those basic needs to be fulfilled. Every child deserves his/her memories to cherish. Every child deserves a childhood.