Indian Habitat Centre, New Delhi

The Context:

India is home to 39% children of the total population (census 2011), which is the largest child population in the world. The United Nations Convention on Rights of Child (UNCRC) defines Child Rights as the minimum entitlements and freedoms that should be afforded to everyone under 18 regardless of origin, status, religion, gender, nation, wealth, colour, language, culture, disability, or any other characteristics. Most of the countries in the world are signatories to this Convention, but the status and conditions of the children all over the globe is still a matter of great concern. In 2015, neonatal deaths accounted for 45 per cent of total deaths, 5 per cent more than in 2000. South Asia has both high overall child mortality and a high share of neonatal deaths. (APR, 2015, UNICEF). 1 in 4 of the world’s school aged children lives in countries affected by crisis. Most recent data show that there are still 150 million child labourers in the world; that 59 million children of primary school age are out of school; and that 15 million girls under 18 are forced into marriage each year. In 2014, 159 million children were stunted.

Child Rights and You (CRY) in India estimates that there are about five million children in commercial sex work in the country, 71 per cent of whom are illiterate. An estimated six million migrating children find their schooling interrupted and do not attend school, while at least 500,000 people were internally displaced due to conflict and violence in India by the end of 2011. About 145,000 of the estimated 2.1 million living with HIV/AIDS in India in 2011 were children below the age of 15. Children from such highly excluded groups face formidable and often insurmountable barriers in their access to schooling due to the specific nature of their vulnerabilities.

In recent years, the world has made tremendous progress in reducing child deaths, getting children into school and lifting millions out of poverty. Many of the interventions behind this progress – such as vaccines, oral rehydration salts and better nutrition – have been practical and cost-effective. (UNICEF report, 2016).

The Indian Constitution empowers the Governments to make special provisions for children, and this commitment is reaffirmed in the National Policy for Children 2013, recognizing uniqueness and supreme importance of children as national asset. Through various child focused schemes and flagship programmes of the Government of India, an overall progress was recorded in terms of declining infant mortality rate; increased rate of child survival, improved literacy rates and declining school dropouts. To create a protective environment so that children do not fall out of the safety net, the Government has launched many schemes such as Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS),

Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), Rashtriya Bal Kosh (National Children’s Fund), Kishori Shakti Yojana and Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (RGSEAG) Sabla. To ensure that child abuse does not go unreported, the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) is working on an online drop-box facility, which will enable children to complain about abuse or harassment in everyday situations, all while staying anonymous.


Despite the measures mentioned above, significant gaps and challenges continue to adversely affect the conditions necessary for the realization of child rights.

Health & Nutrition: Undernutrition contributes to nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 and is widespread in Asia and Africa. According to the latest Human Development Report, India has the highest proportion of undernourished children in the world. The following official data in India indicate the challenges with regard to health and nutrition security of the children – about 1.83 million children die annually before completing their fifth birthday – most of them due to preventable causes. ; about 20 per cent of under-five being wasted, 43 per cent underweight and 48 per cent stunted; 48% Dalit children are stunted compared to the average of 35.6 per cent for general category children and 43 per cent for all India average. The conflation of poverty (low standard of living) and under-weight children is considerably higher amongst Dalits at 49.1% and 56.8 per cent for Scheduled Tribes.

Education: Worldwide, 91 percent of primary-school-age children were enrolled in schools in 2013. According to UNICEF report, the lowest rates of school participation are found in Western and Central Africa, South Asia and conflict-affected countries. While many children are attending school worldwide, many of them drop out or fail to meet minimum standards of learning. A joint study by Caritas India and PVCHR in the schools of Bihar ascertained the reality behind 94% enrolment in schools. More than half of the primary students and 8th pass students cannot read book of class II, and dropout rate of girls has increased due to lack of toilets.

Child Labour: As estimated 150 million children worldwide are engaged in child labour. Millions of children in India live and work in slave labour conditions- bonded labour, sex trafficking, child labour, child domestic worker and many other forms. India has seen a dramatic fall in child labour in the last two decades. According to Census data, 2011, there are nearly 82 lakh child labourers (age between 5-14) in India. But nearly 85 per cent of child labourers are hard-to-reach, invisible and excluded, as they work largely in the unorganized sector, both rural and urban, within the family or in household-based units. In 2011 alone, 90654 children went missing however only 15284 FIRs were registered. Government of India has amended the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, allowing children below 14 to work in home based business. This will further increase the vulnerabilities of children.

Child Abuse: It is alarming that in 2011, the Crimes against children reported a 24% increase from the previous year with a total of 33,098 cases of crimes against children reported in the country in 2011 as compared to 26,694 cases during 2010. The rate of crime committed by juvenile from 2013 to 2014 has also gone up as per the NCRB. And this is an issue that needs urgent attention. Prevention of juvenile crime is also an important part of the juvenile justice system, which needs renewed will and deliberations at wider levels, more so in the light of the JJ Amendment Act 2015. With the increase in incidence of child abuse, exploitation and violence, the well-being of our 442 million children is questionable.

Strategizing inclusion in child rights programs: Age, social, economic and geographical circumstances, and unique developmental needs (social, emotional, physical and cognitive wellbeing) render children most vulnerable to inequality induced poverty and deprivations. Added to this, natural risks and uncertainties, physical and social insecurities challenge many childhoods. Disadvantage and discrimination against their communities and families determine whether they live or die, whether they have a chance to learn and later earn a decent living. The incidence of poverty and discrimination is higher for marginalized households, including Dalit, Adivasi, Minorities and women-headed households, and households with persons with disabilities. Hence, children from these communities face additional challenges.

Child Participation: Government of India has taken initiative for child budgeting and various entitlements for the children. There are efforts by the CSOs in developing child parliaments and child panchayats. However, much distance remains to be covered to increase the participation of children in decision making about their future.


Established in 1962, Caritas India has evolved over her five decades of experience in emergency aid, community development, reconstruction and natural resource management expressing solidarity with the community. Providing sustainable and holistic response through more than 200 member organisations and partners, Caritas India works for the most vulnerable and marginalized sections of the society towards dignified lives and inclusive sustainable development. Caritas India is a member of the larger global Caritas confederation which exists in 165 countries and serves 200 countries and territories and draws her learnings from the good practices of these member organizations.
About the legal age for childhood, Caritas India adheres to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) capping of and reaches out to children under 18 years.

Caritas has her interventions in the area of Care and Protection and Development of children through promoting active participation. Besides a cross cutting focus of child rights in the programmes and interventions, Caritas India supports child-centred programmes in different states namely Delhi and Uttar Pradesh with street children programme, Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur and Assam with Peace building among the young people, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal with Tribal and Dalit (Musahar girls) children addressing Child labour and early marriage with education as solution. Caritas India is closely working with the ICDS centres to improve the early education and health status of children in Odisha. Few Caritas local Partners are nodal organizations for Childline centers in many states to help children in distress. Some examples of our interventions are as follows:

In response to the ground realities in one of our assessment reports on education, Caritas India initiated two educational empowerment programmes for Musahar (Maha Dalit community) girls called ‘Roshini’ and ‘Hamari Pathshala’, which are in force since 2013, and cover 46 villages of 4 districts in Bihar leading to the enrolment of 1842 children in government schools with hundred percentage retention. These interventions have prevented child /early marriage among girl children. In West Bengal, in Darjeeling District, 13 villages/wards have been declared ‘Child Labour Free Zones’ in Kalimpong municipality and ‘Child Friendly Police Station’ is established.

Children being the most potential peace makers have a greater stake and role in peace building, Caritas initiated Peace building initiatives in J & K, Assam and Manipur and covered 11 colleges, 21 schools and 106 villages forming peace clubs of children, youth, women and developing peace education module. Through peace committees, the programme defused a good number of potential issues that could have given rise to communal tension and conflict in these areas.


Against this background, there is an urgent need to address the structural roots of child deprivation, including mass poverty, social discrimination, and lack of education, access to health/nutrition/justice and gender inequality. These would help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which mutually reinforce and are connected with the comprehensive wellbeing and development of children. The need is to have the rights-based country commitments in the form of national priorities with implementation indicators and monitoring mechanisms, and commitment of resources for rolling out the commitments on the ground. Presently, India has accepted the SDGs and signed many international and regional commitments/pledges. It has introduced child budgeting in the annual budget and a national plan of action has been finalized, which are welcome steps. It thus becomes important to deliberate on the priority areas and perspectives related to child rights in relation with the realization of various commitments at international, regional and national levels. The SDGs explicitly recognize the inherent connections among economic development, social development, environmental protection and peacebuilding. Without a humanitarian and integrated approach to development, we will not be able to achieve global goals for the most vulnerable children. Movements such as every Woman every Child and a Promise renewed (aPr) provide platforms for action, bringing together governments, the private sector, international agencies and campaigners.

Against this backdrop, Caritas India is organising the conference with the following objectives:

  • To provide a common platform to bring key stakeholders on board, to discuss achievements and challenges with regards to promotion and protection of rights of children
  • To highlight best practices/models from different parts of the country
  • To evolve a strategy framework that synthesizes learning from these models for adaptation/replication and enables innovation and new approaches
  • Create a roadmap that would enable Caritas India to collaborate, advocate and work on priority issues by reconfirming its commitment towards promotion of rights of children.

Efforts are on to secure collaboration with the Government in the light of national processes on child rights that are underway.