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How globalisation affects India's children

By Rashme Arora

Pressure from the World Bank is diluting the State's responsibility for compulsory primary education and public health. A new report examines the state of India's 370 million children

Fifty kids huddled in a makeshift school in Debitola block of Dhubri district in Assam are part of a single-teacher village school which has been in existence for 15 years. But the school has not received a single paisa in aid from the state government. Nor has the teacher received a salary.

The school is part of the Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha's Lokshal Programme for the Universalisation of Elementary Education, and can be started by any individual. The teacher runs the school in the hope that some day it may get recognised by the state educational authorities. Meanwhile, its attendance register is being used to swell primary school educational statistics in order to meet the World Bank's objective of 100 per cent literacy.

An NGO called Haq: Centre for Child's Rights has come out with India's first state of the nation report on the impact of globalisation on Indian children. Titled `Children in Globalising India -- Challenging Our Conscience', the report is an overview of how India's 370 million kids are faring. It is broken into different sections which touch upon education, health, the young child, the disabled child, the girl child, the trafficked child, the working child, children in armed conflict and child participation. The report is edited by Enakshi Ganguly Thukral and Bharti Ali.

Educational expert Anil Sadgopal, who has contributed a piece titled `Globalisation and the Political Economy of Education' points out how it was pressure from the World Bank that forced the government to reduce the tenure of elementary education from eight to five years. `Article 45 of the Constitution has unambiguously declared that primary education would be spread over eight years and an eight-year curriculum was drafted at the Wardha Conference in 1937. Not only has this been changed but the newly-introduced Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, or Education Guarantee Scheme, has reduced primary education to three years,' says Sadgopal.

Experts also condemn the sweeping aside of earlier educational commitments. In the National Policy on Education 1992 the government committed to having three teachers per primary school. But, under the World Bank-sponsored District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), multi-grade teaching allows a single teacher to handle five classes simultaneously.

The World Bank and the Indian government began signing MOUs to introduce the DPEP in a phased manner in all the states from 1994. The MOUs were treated as secret documents, almost as though they were military secrets. The following trends have emerged after the inking of this agreement:
· The dilution and trivialisation of the aims of education.
· The fragmentation and compartmentalisation of education.
· The alienation of knowledge from social ethos.
· The restriction of access through commercialisation, privatisation and competitive screening.

What's alarming, says Sadgopal, is that one of the underlying assumptions of the DPEP is that a non-formal centre, an adult literacy class and a multi-grade class can replace a regular school with its regular teacher. Literacy, he points out, cannot be equated with education.

What is even more disturbing has been the passing of the 93rd Amendment Bill of 2001, under pressure from the IMF and World Bank. The amendment serves to overturn an earlier Supreme Court verdict through the Unnikrishnan judgement, which made education a fundamental right for children.

The 93rd amendment places the onus of a child's education on the parents, making education the responsibility of parents, not the State. This lays the foundation for inequity in education. The poor are equally keen to educate their children but fail to do so because they lack the means. The result is that, even today, only 24 per cent of boys and 16 per cent of girls between the ages of 11-14 are enrolled in the elementary school system, according to the department of education, Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). These statistics are for 1999-2000. The dropout rate at the primary level remains equally high. Of the 64.1 per cent of boys who enrolled at the primary stage in 1999-2000, almost 39 per cent dropped out before completing class five. The dropout rate is even higher for girls. Of the 49.5 per cent of enrolled girls, about 42.3 per cent dropped out at the primary stage, according to MHRD figures.

The situation is not much better in the area of health, according to the report. Expenditure on public health has declined from 1.3 per cent in 1990 to 0.9 per cent in 1999. With budgetary allocations for health being stagnant, or in decline, as is the case with state governments, most health programmes including TB, malaria, blindness control and HIV/AIDS are dependent on loans from the World Bank.

With 79 per cent of the union health budget dependent on these loans, there is simply not enough money to tackle such diseases. The result is that 65 per cent of the population is being forced to take treatment from private hospitals/clinics. Medical treatment has emerged as the second most common cause of rural indebtedness.

What does this mean for kids under the age of 14? Of the 25 million annual births, 2.7 million kids die before the age of five, according to statistics compiled by the National Family Health Survey. Outbreaks of falciparum malaria in four districts in Rajasthan, Orissa and Assam saw several hundred children lose their lives in the past few years. TB remains the disease of the poor. Of every 1,000 Indians, seven children and 20 adults suffer from TB. Three lakh kids dropped out of school after contracting TB in the last year (Prabhu 2002). Similarly, UNAIDS' Global HIV/AIDS Report shows an estimated 170,000 kids suffering from AIDS.

The impact of HIV on children is two-fold. First, there are those children who are infected and destined to die. Second, there are children whose parents (either one or both) are infected or who have died of AIDS. Both situations are disastrous for the children. In the case of infected children there is a sense of hopelessness, with many people feeling that there is no need to look after the child because he/she is destined to die soon. Fifty per cent of children who get the infection from their mothers die between the ages of one and five. In cases where the child is not infected (but the parents are), he/she will remain neglected and will, therefore, end up facing an uncertain future.

Children remain susceptible to a host of diseases, explains Mira Shiva in her write-up. Diarrhoea continues to be a major killer accounting for around 20 per cent of all under-five deaths, according to the concerned ministry. Some 600,000 kids die of dehydration brought on by diarrhoea every year. No other country in the world is known to suffer such a high number of dehydration and easily preventable deaths.

These deaths can easily be prevented by the distribution and use of ORS (oral rehydration solution) packets throughout the country. Unfortunately, even these are now being distributed on a commercial basis, with each one-litre packet selling at between Rs 8 and Rs 14, thereby making them unaffordable for the poor. The fact that even ORS packets are being sold commercially is tragic at a time when the public health system is close to collapse. Meanwhile, most doctors continue to prescribe streptomycin combinations which have been legally banned as a means to combat diarrhoea.

Environmental degradation also adversely impacts the lives of children. Thousands of children working in brick kilns, stone quarries and coal mines etc suffer from silicosis, backache, cervical spondylosis and TB. Child bidi workers inhale tobacco, which damages their lungs. Child carpet-weavers squat for hours, putting a severe strain on their backs and eyes. They often end up developing bony lesions and deformities.

The situation for children living in areas of armed conflict, whether it is in the north-eastern states, Kashmir or Punjab, is equally grim. The riots in Gujarat are still fresh in our memories. The wounds of the Mumbai riots have still to heal. Every other day we hear of caste violence in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where scores of children are mercilessly gunned down. What can remove the scars from the minds of hundreds of children in Gujarat who have seen their parents torched to death by rampaging mobs?

The human rights abuses faced by our children can best be summed up by the fate of 14-year-old Chenchu Hasda. Hasda was one of those arrested for the murder of the missionary Graham Staines and his two sons. After languishing for a year in an adult prison, Hasda was found guilty and `convicted'. Several questions remain about whether Hasda did indeed actively participate in the killings or just happened to be present at the spot and was therefore arrested as an abettor. Why was he housed in a jail with hardcore criminals? These are questions that remain unanswered, as do so many other questions about the miserable lives of our vulnerable children.

(January 2003)