Thirteen million children are still out of school in the Saarc region — and among those who do go to school, the quality of learning that many have access to leaves much to be achieved. It is against this sobering reality that the solidly upbeat tone of recently-published The South Asian Report on the Child-friendliness of Governments, 2013, has to be read. It is co-published by a number of international non-governmental child rights organizations, and is the fruit of a survey project led by Turid Heiberg. The report surveys mostly the structures, mechanisms and institutions developed by South Asian governments to realize their 25-year-old commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It looks, and compares, legal and policy frameworks, as well as child-related “outcomes” ensured by governments and “non-state actors” in areas like health, education and child protection measures towards birth registration and the prevention of child marriages.
India tops the index in terms of legal and policy frameworks, with significant results in general measures of implementation and the effectiveness of non-state actors, and notable results in ensuring children’s “right to be heard”. Yet, it drops to fourth place — below the Maldives, Bhutan and Sri Lanka — when it comes to outcomes in health, education and rudimentary protection. In education, for instance, it ranks seventh, just a little better than Afghanistan and worse than Pakistan. In over-all governmental child-friendliness, it is placed fourth by the report, below Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan, with Sri Lanka topping the over-all index. What the South Asian countries have all woken up to is the absolute centrality of children’s rights in democratic governance, especially in the eyes of the international community. Yet, implementation, and reflecting this centrality in budgeting, remain far below the required standard. Political will and social change are inextricable from each other.