New Delhi: In a bid to protect socio-economically vulnerable children from being trafficked and pushed into child labour, a group of MPs from both Houses of Parliament today impressed upon the urgent need to make education free and compulsory till the age of 18 years.
In a Consultation organised here on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989-2019) by the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF), MPs Smt. Amee Yajnik, Smt, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Shri Vivek Tankha, Shri Manoj Kumar Jha, Shri Kunwar Danish Ali and Shri Lavu Sri Krishna Devarayalu urged the government to initiate steps to draw disadvantaged and vulnerable children into the formal school system.
The parliamentarians exhorted the government to extend the age for free and compulsory education under the Right to Education Act from 14 to 18 years. They emphasised upon the need to review the RTE Act and ensure its strict and faithful implementation.
Other than the law makers, stakeholders from across institutions and agencies, a number of child rights experts and NGOs were also part of the Consultation. Member Secretary of Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) S D Kulkarni, Member Secretary of Assam SLSA S N Sarma, Uttarakhand SCPCR Usha Negi, ADG Gujrat Anil Pratham and India Policy Foundation Director Kuldeep Ratnoo were among the dignitaries present.
According to the Annual Educational Statistics published by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, an estimated 6.2 crore children of school age (between 6 and 18 years) were out of school in 2015. The Gross Enrolment Ratio for Grades 6th to 8th was 90.7%, while for Grades 9th – 10th and 11th – 12th it was only 79.3% and 51.3%, respectively. These numbers indicate that a significant proportion of enrolled students begin to drop out after Grade 5, especially after Grade 8.
Rajya Sabha MP Shri Ravi Prakash Verma, said, “The RTE Act at present only empowers children till the age of 14. It needs to be extended till the age of 18 years to prevent trafficking and exploitation of children. This shall also include technical and vocational training, and skill development. There shall be special emphasis on education in areas of highest vulnerability or source areas of trafficking.”
Spokesperson KSCF, Shri Rakesh Senger said, “It has been observed that children who are victims of child labour, trafficking, child marriage or other forms of exploitation and crimes are mostly those who stay out of school”.
KSCF’s sister organisation, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, rescued a total of 3960 children from various forms of exploitation, including child labour and trafficking, between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2019. Of these, data regarding educational status of 424 is available, an analysis of which shows that 95 are those who were below 13 years of age, while 329 were in the 14 to 18 age group. Of the total, 233 were school dropouts while 80 had never gone to school. Thus, out of 424 children 313, which is 74 % of the total, were out of school.
In the year 2000, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi acted as a catalyst for formation of the ‘Parliamentary Forum on Education’ to push for free and compulsory education as a fundamental right. In 2001, a country-wide Shiksha Yatra, in which MPs cutting across party lines, civil society members and other stakeholders took part, was launched over the same issue. The following year, another campaign took off to press for higher budgetary allocation for education. Since then, several other moves were made, eventually paving the way for the 86th amendment to the Constitution that finally made education a fundamental right. Following this, the RTE Act came into being in 2009.
It was observed during the Consultation that initiatives such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and campaigns like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao have helped India take remarkable strides in attaining near-universal enrollment in primary schools. However, the data for higher grades highlights the extremely pertinent issue of retaining children in the school system beyond the primary level.
“The policy makers should be concentrating more on providing the basic amenities for the children through existing laws. Also, RTE should be properly implemented for benefit of each and every child,” said member of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), Ms. Rosy Taba.
Former MP Dr. K C Tyagi, who chaired the second consultation session, said, “There is a dire need for the extension of RTE till the age of 18 years and implementation of RTE Act, 2009 in its true spirit. This will further strengthen India’s position in attaining Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8.7 which talks about taking immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and end child labour in all its forms by 2025. For this, there is an urgent need to develop a time-bound budgeted action plan for school enrolment of all children up to the age of 18 and curb trafficking and child labour.”
Speaking on the occasion, Diana-award winner Champa Kumari said, “I was once a school dropout since education was never a priority for my family. I used to go to the nearby mines in my village, in Jharkhand, to collect mica. I was withdrawn from child labour and enrolled in a government school. I feel that education plays a crucial role in protecting children like me, and I want every child to be in school.”
Earlier in October this year, a Girls’ March to School programme in which one lakh children, led primarily by girls, took part in the march and demanded free education till the age of 18 was organised by NGO partners, BBA and KSCF. This took place on the occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child, October 11.