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India has recently seen impressive economic growth. However, poverty and injustices, often tied to gender and class, are cruel realities for millions of women and children.1 The framework of the Indian Constitution provides the necessary means for the protection, development and welfare of children.2 Yet children, especially girls, are a particularly vulnerable group. Notably, almost half of the children in the country suffer from malnutrition. A high number of children do not enjoy the right to an adequate standard of living, such as access to clean drinking water, adequate housing conditions and latrines. Access to school and health care is limited. Despite a scheme launched four years ago to provide universal education, about 60 million children do not attend primary school.3

Children on the Streets

Around 18 million children live and work on urban streets in India.4 The country has more street children than anywhere else in the world.5 The problem of harmful child labour is well recognised. More than 12 million Indian children work, many of them in hazardous labour. India is also considered to be a source, destination, and transit country for children who are trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.6 There are about 500,000 child prostitutes in the country,7and concern is expressed that the programmes for the physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of child victims of sexual abuse and exploitation remain insufficient and inadequate.8

Working children

In South Asia, 44 million or 13% of all children are involved in child labour.9 In India there are 2 million children working in hazardous
industries.10 Many children work in hazardous conditions, including as bonded labourers, especially in the informal sector, in household enterprises, in agriculture, and as domestic servants. There is a legal minimum age for employment, but it is rarely enforced and appropriate penalties and sanctions are not imposed to ensure that employers comply with the law.11

Child soldiers

Armed groups are responsible for forced recruitment of children. For instance, in the state of Chaattisgarh, the Naxalites (armed Maoist groups) have been carrying out bombings, torture and killings, using children as young as 12 in some of their operations. In fact, all parties to that conflict have used children in armed operations.12


There is a persistent social discrimination against children belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes and other tribal groups. Discriminatory social attitudes and harmful traditional practices towards girls result in low school enrolment, high dropout rates and early and forced marriages. Gender inequality is perpetuated in areas such as marriage, divorce, custody and guardianship of infants, and inheritance, and in the continuing practices of child marriage, dowry and devadasi.13


The child abuse study made by Save the Children in India reveals that 69 percent of children were physically abused in 13 states in one or more situations, and 54.68 percent of these children were boys and 48.29 percent were young children. In the 5–12 age group, nearly 3 out of 4 children reported physical abuse in one or more situations. When stakeholders were asked their views on corporal punishment over 44 percent felt it was necessary for disciplining children.14

Children in detention facilities often suffer from ill-treatment, torture and sexual abuse. There are also alleged instances of killings of children by law enforcement officials. Corporal punishment is not prohibited in the schools of most states, in the family, or in other institutions for children, and remains acceptable in society. The minimum age for criminal responsibility in national legislations is as young as seven. The 2002 Prevention of Terrorism Act allows for the prosecution of children by special courts, in contravention of the provisions in articles 37, 40 and 39 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.15

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