INDIAN FESTIVALS : Children’s Day Special Feature
The Child In India
By C. Gopalan
Children's Day

The problems which beset the children of India, today, are, largely, the by-products of the pervasive problems of poverty, illiteracy and social injustice afflicting our society. Real and lasting improvement in the condition of our children can be brought about only through a successful attack on the basic problems of poverty and social injustice and not through ad hoc palliative programmes.

In his day, Jawaharlal Nehru strove hard to fight social injustice and economic inequalities. However, in spite of impressive economic and industrial development, significant scientific and technological advancement, the social and distributive justice which he so ardently desired, and yearned for, have largely eluded us. The problems of poverty, illiteracy, social injustice and glaring economic inequalities, still remain with us; and, in such a system, the children are the worst sufferers. It is only when we have successfully met these challenges that we would have realised India of Jawaharlal Nehru’s dreams.

Human Resources, A Valuable Asset

It we have to successfully attack the problems of poverty and social injustice, the concept that human resources represent a most valuable national asset must become the central theme of our national developmental strategy. We have all been so greatly concerned, and for very valid reasons too, with the rapid growth of our population, that we have almost learnt to look upon our population as a “problem”.

At present, the vast bulk of our people neither participate in, nor benefit from, the “national” developmental process. They appear redundant, their productivity is low, they are either unemployed or unemployable; and they just exist as passive onlookers on the national scene.

No programme of development which bypasses vast segments of people, can be considered as truly national. No nation can really be great when nearly half its population exists in a substandard state of health and nutrition. What is needed is the conviction that, in the ultimate analysis, national prosperity and well-being in the true sense, will be achieved only through a strategy which ensures the “quality” and the productivity of the vast bulk of our people, and which involves them in productive endeavour contributing to national development.

It is through such a strategy that we can ensure that the benefits of national development percolate to the weakest sections, and thus, poverty and all its by-products are eradicated. Indeed, it is only through such a strategy that we can also hope to achieve real and enduring success in our programmes of family planning and in our efforts to improve the lot of our children. The problems of children have to be viewed in this total setting.

There is now evidence that the health and nutritional status of a child during the early year of development will determine, to a considerable extent, productivity and physical stamina and endurance, in adult life. If we have to ensure the productivity of our future generation of adults, we will have to turn our attention to the children of today. But, in order to ensure the health and well-being of children, we will have to ensure a basic minimum standard of life for the family as a whole. This, in essence, is the problem.

The children of India who constitute nearly 40% of our total population, represent the most critical part of our human resources. Today, we have nearly 250 million children below 12 years of age. Children below 5 years of age, who represent an even more crucial age group, number nearly 100 million. But it is not the numbers, but the quality of this child population that is important. It is the present state of health and nutrition of this crucial age group that will largely determine the quality and the calibre of our Nation in 2000 A.D. and beyond.

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