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What does the budget have to do with children?

By Ajay Kumar Sinha

Everything. Analysing trends in the government's allocation and expenditure on child-specific programmes and schemes is one way of holding the government accountable on its commitment to children. Though the percentage share of children in the Union budget has gone up from 1.2% in the 1990s to 4.91% in 2006-07, there is still quite a gap between need and allocation, and allocation and actual spending

The disparities in India are stark. Thirty-five per cent of Indians are illiterate and yet India produces millions of highly-skilled global knowledge professionals.  The government is celebrating India’s “unprecedented high rate of economic growth”, huge Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) and Foreign Institutional Investments (FIIs), and yet thousands of our children are dying of hunger. India has an estimated 440 million children (0-18 years) constituting over 40% of the country’s population. Yet their rights continue to be neglected.

Why is this happening? Theoretically, government expenditure and investment are dependent on economic prudence and a vision of the nation’s development. But it would appear that it is interest groups and lobbies that have a direct bearing on the vote banks of political parties and the dynamics of the global economy that manage to get their interests addressed. Tribals, women, farmers, unorganised labour in agriculture and various industries don’t. But these marginalised groups can at least voice their concerns by virtue of adult franchise and their ability to form groups and associations. Children do not even have a voice and the right to be heard. Their rights are considered either subservient to the rights of other groups or at best part and parcel of adult rights.

When economic reforms were introduced in 1991, the Indian finance minister made it immediately clear that the government “was committed to adjustment with a human face”. (1) Despite this, there were apprehensions that the reforms would lead to a decline in social welfare in general and child welfare in particular. Very few comprehensive studies have been done to assess the impact of the reforms specifically on children, (2) and therefore the relationship between reforms and welfare of children is not easy to establish.

The impact of the reforms on children received considerable attention in the late-1980s and early-1990s, especially after the publication of Unicef’s Adjustment with a Human Face (Cornia, Jolly and Stewart, 1987). Based on experiences in 10 countries, mainly in Latin America, Africa and East Asia, this study showed that adjustment often had very negative effects on the welfare of children. In many countries, there had been deterioration in most indicators of child development during the adjustment period. This was especially so because expenditure on health, nutrition and education had been reduced, and also because unemployment and loss of family income meant that families had less money to spend on their children.

Children have never received much explicit attention in India’s economic policies. (3) They are hardly mentioned in the annual budget speeches, (4) or in other crucial policy documents. This, of course, does not mean that the policies do not affect them. Directly and indirectly, the survival chances, welfare and future of children are affected by macro-economic and policy changes.

How children are affected is, however, not always easy to ascertain. This is so for several reasons. Often policies do not all work in the same direction. In fact, even a relatively coherent set of policies that can be grouped together as ‘structural adjustment’ can have contradictory effects on children. The effects of policies can also be mitigated or reinforced by other developments. Finally, children themselves do not form a homogeneous group but are differentiated along lines of gender, class, caste, religion, age, etc; different policies may have a different impact on different categories of children.

Budgeting for child rights

Since India ratified the UNCRC it is obliged to submit periodic reports on its progress on realising the rights of all children to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Based on its report that came up for review in January 2004, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its concluding observations, said:

Make every effort to increase the proportion of the budget allocated to the realisation of children’s rights to the “maximum extent … of available resources” and, in this context, to ensure the provision, including through international cooperation, of appropriate human resources and to guarantee that the implementation of policies relating to social services provided to children remain a priority; and

Develop ways to assess the impact of budgetary allocations on the implementation of children’s rights, and to collect and disseminate information in this regard.

(Thirty-fifth session vide letter No CRC/C/15/Add 228, dated January 30, 2004)

In India, one out of 16 children die before they attain 1 year of age, and one out of 11 die before they attain 5 years of age. Thirty-five per cent of the developing world’s low birth weight babies are born in India, and 40% of child malnutrition in the developing world is in India. Out of every 100 children, 19 continue to be out of school. Of those who enrol, many drop out.

This is a gloomy scenario, and there are many children who are not covered by the programmes/schemes of either the central government or the respective state governments. This sad state of affairs vis-à-vis children in India can be mainly attributed to a lack of State accountability. There are no functional mechanisms to monitor the formulation of programmes/schemes, their budgeting and implementation by the executive, though some avenues are provided for the people of India to monitor the functioning of the executive through elected representatives, that is, the legislature. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (UNCRC, 1989), which India ratified in 1992, also provides avenues for NGOs to monitor State functioning to ensure the rights of India’s children.

Realising the need for a mechanism to monitor the State and hold it accountable vis-à-vis its performance on the rights of children, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights developed a system of child budgeting in India and published its first research-based analysis, ‘India’s Children and the Union Budget’, in 2001. This was an analysis of trends in allocation and expenditure on child-specific programmes/schemes of the Government of India in the post-reforms period spanning 1991-92 to 2000-01.

In an economy where government expenditure in a financial year is only around 12% of the total GDP for that given year, the budget is only a small player in the overall economy and economic policies. But the budget is not just an economic document; it’s a reflection of the government’s political will and direction. It is an indicator of the government’s willingness to translate its commitments into reality. The manner in which the money allocated for programmes/schemes for children is spent also provides an indication of the government’s commitment to child rights. In fact, it is a reflection of the whole governance system. Any political commitment, in the absence of adequate financial allocations, would be mere rhetoric rather than reality.

HAQ’s 2001 study showed that the average expenditure on children in the ’90s was a mere 1.2% of the total Union budget. And, as HAQ categorised expenditure on children into four sectors -- child health, child development, child education and children in difficult circumstances -- the sectoral spending projected an even grimmer picture. The share of expenditure on children in difficult circumstances was abysmally low, at 0.01% of the total Union budget expenditure (see Figure 1 and Table 2). (Note: The children’s budget is not a separate budget. It is basically an attempt to disaggregate from the nation’s budget what goes into programmes and schemes for the benefit of children.)

Figure 1: Share of Union budget spent on children (5) (1990-1998)

         

Source: Detailed Demands for Grants (1990-91 to 2000-2001), Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

*Note:  Child development includes programmes on Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and other miscellaneous programmes under the Department of Women and Child Development           

Table 2: Sector-wise spending on children in the Union budget (6)
(1990-1998) In percentage

Year¯ /
Sectors®

Health

Child
development

Education

Children in difficult circumstances

Total 

1990-91

0.1

0.3

0.2

0.01

0.6

1991-92

0.1

0.3

0.3

0.01

0.7

1992-93

0.1

0.3

0.3

0.01

0.7

1993-94

0.2

0.3

0.2

0.00

0.7

1994-95

0.3

0.4

0.4

0.01

1.0

1995-96

0.3

0.4

0.7

0.02

1.3

1996-97

0.3

0.4

0.8

0.02

1.6

1997-98

0.3

0.4

1.0

0.02

1.8

1998-99

0.2

0.4

1.0

0.01

1.6

Average

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.01

  1.2

Source: Demands for Grants (1990-91 to 2000-2001), Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

Another startling revelation made in HAQ’s 2001 study was about underspending in the various schemes for children.

In 1993-94, there was underspending in the elementary education and child development sectors, as well as in the sector relating to children in difficult circumstances (inter alia child protection).

Underspending in elementary education
There was under-utilisation in 12 out of the 17 elementary education schemes. Some of the important schemes, which show a high rate of under-spending, are:

  • District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) -- 91.3% unspent
  • Mahila Samakhya -- 80.6% unspent
  • Teachers training programme -- 95.6% unspent
  • Special schools for the disabled -- 93.3% unspent

Underspending in child development
       • Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) -- 11.6% unspent

Underspending in child protection
       • National Child Labour Project (NCLP) -- 99.0% unspent

Source: HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, ‘India’s Children and the Union Budget, 2001’

Child budgeting as government’s mandate

The annual report of the Department of Women and Child Development (2002-2003) stated: “After gender, the next logical step for the Department of Women and Child Development as a nodal department for women and children is the analysis of public expenditure on children… A pioneering effort was made by HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, in their publication ‘India’s Children and the Union Budget’.”  

Since then, the Indian government has taken up child budgeting at the departmental level and, till date, has published three studies on child budgets in the annual reports of the Department of Women and Child Development (2002-03 and 2004-05) and in the annual reports of the Ministry of Women and Child Development (2005-06). (7)

Even as the government took up child budgeting as its mandate and started analysing the budget allocations and expenditure on children, the allocation for children has seen a steady rise over the years (see Tables 3 and 4). But there is still a huge gap between the money needed to fulfil the rights of India’s children and the money promised through budgets, and between allocation and actual expenditure, thanks to incapacities in programme delivery mechanisms.

Translating outlays into outcomes

In its annual reports of 2002-03 and 2004-05, the ministry has undertaken a series of analyses on child budgeting. In 2004-05, the ministry’s report noted that an analysis of expenditure by the Centre and states on children’s issues showed an increased commitment although actual expenditure “may however fall short of budgets for reasons like lack of capacity to spend/absorb funds, procedural delays, slackness in implementation” amongst other factors (Annual report (2005-06), Ministry of Women and Child Development, Pg 129) 

Also, the increase in allocation for children is mainly on account of increased allocations on three programmes -- Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan(SSA),the Midday Meal Scheme, and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).

Table 3: Percentage share of children in the Union budget (BE)

Year

Total Union budget (BE)
(Rs crore)

Total child budget
(BE)
(Rs crore)

% share of child budget in Union budget

2003-04

438795.07

10264.23

2.33

2004-05

477829.04

11695.72

2.45

2005-06

514343.80

19841.01

3.86

2006-07

563991.13

27674.58

4.91

Source: GOI expenditure budget 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07 (Vols 1 and 2)

Table 4: Percentage share of sectoral allocation on children in Union budget

 

Year

% share of child development in Union budget

% share of child health in Union budget

% share of child education in Union budget

% share of child protection in Union budget

% share of total child budget in Union budget

2003-04

0.490

0.340

1.470

0.030

2.330

2004-05

0.422

0.423

1.567

0.033

2.445

2005-06

0.658

0.527

2.638

0.034

3.857

2006-07

0.830

0.556

3.487

0.034

4.907

Source: GOI expenditure budget 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07 (Vols 1 and 2


Table 5: Percentage sectoral allocation in child budget

Year

% share of child development in child budget

% share of child health in child budget

% share of child education in child budget

% share of child protection in child budget

2003-04

21.30

14.60

62.70

1.30

2004-05

17.25

17.28

64.02

1.36

2005-06

17.40

13.66

68.40

0.89

2006-07

16.92

11.32

71.06

0.70

Source: GOI expenditure budget 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07 (Vols 1 and 2)

Within the total allocation for children, the percentage share for education has gone up at the cost of allocations for child development, child health and child protection.

The reasons for this can be traced to politics and the politics of economics. Take the allocations for child education. With the inclusion of Article 21A in the Constitution of India in 2002, after the 93rd amendment, the Government of India was under pressure to increase allocations for elementary education. The government did increase the allocation, but compared to the actual requirement there was still a huge shortfall.

The allocation for elementary education in 2001-02 was Rs 3,801.00 crore. It increased to Rs 4,484.40 crore in 2003-04, and Rs 5,766.83 in 2004-05. When it increased substantially to Rs 11,219.75 crore it was mainly on account of collection from an education cess of 2% on all central taxes levied through the Finance (No 2) Act, 2004. To increase expenditure on elementary education the Government of India adopted the simplistic method of imposing an additional tax burden on the people instead of looking at other more viable options like collection of tax arrears. Income tax arrears to the tune of nearly Rs 99,000 crore and customs and excise arrears of another Rs 16,000 crore have piled up till 2005-06. On the one hand the finance minister has imposed an education cess to finance elementary education, and on the other hand he gifted corporates with a tax slash from 33% to 30% in the year 2005-06.

While the allocation on education increased, riding on resources generated from the education cess, child protection issues remained neglected as was evident from the fact that the allocation on child protection has stayed stagnant at 0.03% of the total Union budget allocations.

The Juvenile Justice Act covers children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with the law. The first category includes street children, child labourers, orphans and children of beggars and sex workers. The latter category consists of criminal offenders or children framed for criminal offences. The Act was altered in 2000. The upper age of ‘children’ covered has been increased from 16 to 18 years, the role of the police has been enhanced and the destination of preference is segregated institutions. The government’s programme for such children is a ‘Programme for Juvenile Justice’. The money needed to run homes for children comes from this programme and allocation for this programme in the year 2006-07 is just Rs 23.00 crore, when there is a requirement of 280 children’s homes, 308 observation homes, 258 special homes, 101 after-care homes, 410 child welfare committees, 596 shelter homes, 315 juvenile justice boards and 704 special juvenile police units, according to the Working Group for Children Living in Difficult Circumstances, set up under the Tenth Five-Year Plan. (8)  The State, already under pressure to reduce and offload social sector spending, is withdrawing from the provision of social security and is eager to have its institutions privately run.

Endnotes

  1. Budget speech of Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, 1991-92, Point 8. See also Point 45 of this budget speech
  2. An early study is Saleth (1993). This paper develops a model of linkages and mechanisms through which structural adjustment and child welfare are related, in order to say something about likely strategies of the government and of pro-child professionals
  3. It is perhaps even possible to make a wider claim, namely that the Indian State has been quite negligent towards child welfare more generally. See, for instance, Weiner (1991)
  4. For GOI budget speeches, see
    http://indiabudget.nic.in
  5. HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, ‘India’s Children and the Union Budget’, 2001
  6. HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, ‘India’s Children and the Union Budget’, 2001
  7. The Department of Women and Child Development under the Ministry of Human Resource Development got elevated to the status of an independent ministry in 2006
  8. Under Sections 8, 9, 34, 37 and 44 of the Juvenile Justice Act, the State is obliged to establish and maintain either by itself or in association with a voluntary organisation, observation homes, special homes, children’s homes, shelter homes-cum-drop-in centres and after-care homes in every district or group of districts in the country

References

Cornia, G A, Jolly, R and Stewart, F (1987), Adjustment with a Human Face, Oxford, Oxford University Press

HAQ: Centre for Child Rights (2001), ‘India’s Children and the Union Budget’, Chapter 1 ‘Children’s Budget’, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, New Delhi

HAQ: Centre for Child Rights (2005), ‘What does the Union Budget 2005-06 have for Children?’, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, New Delhi

HAQ: Centre for Child Rights (2006), ‘What does the Union Budget 2006-07 have for Children?’, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, New Delhi

http://indiabudget.nic.in

Jos Mooij, ‘Reforms and Children: Issues and Hypothesis regarding the Impacts of Reform Policies on the Welfare of Children in India with special emphasis on Andhra Pradesh’, Young Lives 

Saleth, R M (1993), ‘Structural adjustment and child welfare: scenarios, strategies, and options’, IASSI Quarterly, Vol 12, No 1 and 2

Sinha, Ajay Kumar, ‘Financing Unfreedom’, Combat Law, Vol 5, Issue 1, January-March 2006, Combat Law Publications Pvt Ltd, Mumbai

Srivastava, R S (2003), ‘The Right to Education in India’. Country Report for the Right to Development Project, Centre for Development and Human Rights, New Delhi, and Harvard Centre for Population and Development Studies

White, B (1996) ‘Globalisation and the child labour problem’, Journal of International Development, Vol 8, No 6

(Ajay Kumar Sinha is Programme Coordinator — Children and Governance at HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, Delhi)

InfoChange News & Features, June 2007