GUWAHATI, July 28 - Highlighting the continuum of childhood and emphasising that the age group within 15 to 18 years are essentially children, CRY (Child Rights and You) has come out with a report, �Childescents of India: We are children too�.
The report is a comprehensive narrative on children from 15 to 18 years of age � their rights or the lack of them, their vulnerabilities that often go unnoticed and the many discrepancies that seep in while discussing this particular set of children.
In doing so, CRY has come up with the coinage, �childescents,� to put into perspective the dilemma that the state is going through in describing these children.
As for Assam, the number of childescents in the State is 25,19,724, and the percentage of children not attending educational institutions is 27.79 and 46.26 in the urban and rural areas respectively. The male in the urban areas constitute 29.16 per cent and the female 26.33 per cent, while in the rural areas the corresponding figures are 47.58 per cent and 44.78 per cent respectively.
The percentage of children who were never enrolled in educational institutions is 5.24 per cent (urban) and 15.12 (rural), with the male-female break-up being male � 4.75 per cent (urban) and female � 5.77 per cent (urban), and male � 14.49 per cent (rural) and female � 15.82 (rural).
The percentage of secondary schools in the State is: Government-owned � 53.72 per cent, private-aided � 11.26 per cent, private unaided � 25.64 per cent, private (total) � 36.90 per cent and unrecognised 9.37 per cent. The percentage of higher secondary schools in the State is: Government-owned � 55.95 per cent, private-aided � 13.30 per cent, private unaided � 22.41 per cent, private (total) � 35.71 per cent, and unrecognised � 8.34 per cent.
The report coming out on the World Population Day highlights that there are nearly 100 million childescents between 15-18 years in India, and this huge population remains largely invisible as children and hence, under-addressed.
Explaining the organisation�s objective behind the study, Puja Marwaha, CEO, CRY, said that the report aimed at establishing vulnerabilities of the childescents, children lost in the transitory space from childhood to adulthood through in-depth data and policy analysis by making use of available primary and secondary data and published literature, further identifying gaps and thereby seeking to influence policy and decision-makers to close the gaps.
Further elaborating on the vulnerabilities of childescents, Marwaha said that for nearly four decades, CRY had been working with children, and it had not gone unnoticed that childescents were the most disadvantageous group among them.
�They lose out on the RTE Act (Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act that ensures education for all within the age group of 6-14 years) as soon as they cross 14; they are no longer under the protection of CLPRA (Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act), as the Act does allow children within 15-18 years to join the work force (barring a limited list of occupations and processes that are considered hazardous). Being on the cusp of adulthood, their health � especially their sexual and mental health � is a matter of concern as well. And unarguably, protection becomes a much bigger worry in the case of these children in the context of rampant child marriages often forcefully executed. Children of this age group are often trafficked for either labour or flesh trade,� she added.
As the data suggests, only one in every three school-going children in the country finish Class XII at an appropriate age, and less than 15 per cent of the schools in India have adequate opportunities for secondary and higher secondary education in India. It is secondary education that is a window of opportunity that can lead to gainful adult employment, therefore universalisation of secondary education, along with focus on quality improvement, is of paramount importance.
According to experts, special focus is also needed for children from socio-economically weaker backgrounds; creating systems to identify and track children at risk of dropping out of school, remedial support and appropriate provisioning to keep them meaningfully engaged in education.
Twenty-three million childescents are working in India according to Census 2011, and 83 per cent of these children have dropped out of school. Trafficking for forced labour and domestic labour is very high in this age group. There is an urgent need to check children�s involvement in family occupations and hazardous processes. A comprehensive legislation on trafficking is also a pressing need.
Child marriage and under-age motherhood remain other areas of grave concern as 55 per cent of the currently married women in India were married between 14-19 years of age, and 3.4 million girls between 15-19 years are mothers (Census 2011). Greater awareness and deliberation are required on the recent Supreme Court judgement on child marital rape. The PCMA (2006) and the POCSO (2012) need to be reviewed to tighten protection issues.
More than 40 per cent of the children aged 15-19 are undernourished, while a whopping 54 per cent of girls and 29 per cent of boys within the same age group are anaemic. A comprehensive nutrition supplementation programme, along with better provisioning, implementation and sensitisation for physical, sexual and mental health challenges facing this age group, should be the prime focus.
Protection of childescents also deserves keen attention as indicated by facts such as their accounting for 60 per cent of all kidnapping and abduction cases, and being victims of 25 per cent of the country�s rape cases, as reported by the NCRB.