1 Jul, 2007 l 0414 hrs ISTlTIMES NEWS NETWORK
PUNE: Serious discrepancy between government and civil society figures and lack of reliable statistics about children out of school in Maharashtra came out in a big way during a convention here on Saturday. The participants also discussed the state government’s inability or unwillingness to implement provisions of the right for education to all. They pointed out that the Maharashtra government’s human development report of 2002-03 cited 2,300 as the number of children below 14 years who were out of formal education in Nanded district. In sharp contrast, a joint survey carried out in January by the district administration and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Nanded villages showed that around 47,000 children in that category were out of school. Most of them were working as construction labourers and in agriculture fields. Representatives of around two dozen NGOs working in the field of child right gathered for a state-level convention on ‘Child rights: Right to Education’ organised at the behest of Socio Economic Development Trust (SEDT) — a Parbhani-based organisation working for the cause of children’s education for the last two and half decades. Shanta Sinha, chairperson of the National Commission on Child Rights, pointed to stark facts like prevalence of 47 per cent malnourishment among Indian children in the age group of 0-7 years and the 2001 census figure of 8.5 crore children out of school. “At a time when the government’s census itself talks of 1.2 crore children engaged in child labour and another 7.7 crore both out of school or work, we have no right to flaunt figures like 8 per cent annual increase in gross domestic product,” Sinha said. Highlighting the role of governments, Sinha said high absenteeism among teachers, poor condition of school infrastructure and lack of access to school due to household poverty make it more imperative for the state to play an active role. Child rights activist Nirmala Purandare said that even in a city like Pune, considered to be an educational hub, there are 32 children who cannot afford to study beyond seventh standard for each 100 that manage to find a place in a junior college. “The victory in the battle for child education and against child labour will change the destiny and economy of India,” Purandare said. Suryakant Kulkarni, chairman of SEDT and convenor of the programme, spoke about the role played by education activists in making around 300 villages in six districts of Marathwada free of illiteracy and putting all children there into school. “We were able to achieve this small step in two years. This shows that with government intervention it would be much easier to eliminate deprivation of education,” he said. The participants at the convention accused the government of not being serious about statistics regarding child education and child labour. While the state government claimed in 2002-03 that only 4.5 lakh children below 14 years of age are out of school, rough figures collected by civil society organisations show a figure as high as 14-15 lakh across the state. The convention called upon the government to adopt a pro-active approach to implement the provisions of the 1991 United Nations Convention on Child Rights and Child Education of which India is a signatory and official ratifier.