NEW DELHI - India's efforts to improve the lives of its children are failing due to meager government spending on the youth, Nobel peace laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi said on Monday, as the country marked its annual "Children's Day."
Children's Day, or Bal Divas, coinciding with the birthday of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is marked by events such as cultural performances in schools.
"Our nation has the world's highest number of malnourished children, child labor and children vulnerable to sexual offenses, [yet] it is unfortunate this section of the society receives the lowest budgetary allocation," Satyarthi said.
"All our efforts for the development of children fail with such disproportionate investment," he said in a statement.
Children make up more than 40 percent of India's almost 1.3 billion population, yet only four percent of the budget is allocated to under-18s, he said. India has made considerable progress in curbing the exploitation of children over the last decade.
It has introduced laws to protect children and ensure their schooling, as well as a range of social welfare schemes. But activists say implementation is lacking in combating issues such as child labor and sexual exploitation.
A February 2015 report by the International Labor Organization puts the number of child workers in India aged between five and 17 at 5.7 million, out of 168 million globally.
More than half are in agriculture, toiling in cotton, sugarcane and rice paddy fields where they are often exposed to pesticides and risk injury from sharp tools and heavy equipment.
Over a quarter work in manufacturing - confined to poorly lit, barely ventilated rooms in slums, embroidering clothes, weaving carpets, making matchsticks or rolling beedi cigarettes.
Children also work in restaurants and hotels, washing dishes and chopping vegetables, or in middle-class homes, cleaning and scrubbing floors.
Other crimes against children are also a serious concern, say activists. There were over 94,000 crimes against children recorded in 2015, an increase of more than five percent from the previous year, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
Crimes included murder, infanticide, kidnapping and abduction, abandonment and procuration of minor girls. Almost 30 percent were sexual offenses, including rape, said NCRB data.
Satyarthi, whose charity Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) is credited with rescuing more than 80,000 enslaved children, said a child goes missing in India every eight minutes.
He appealed to legislators across all political parties to devote one day to the discussion of child rights during the last session of parliament this year, which begins on Wednesday.
"Although significant progress has been made for the protection of child rights, critical challenges continue due to gaps in policy and their implementation," he said.
"The fight against child labor, child trafficking and child sexual abuse need higher political will," added Satyarthi, who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.