Children and the Right To Commons

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(from Vocabulary of Commons, article 32)

by Enakshi Ganguly Thukral

Children and the right to commons

A few months ago a lady arrived in our office with a huge pile of legal papers. She wanted our help because her neighbour had filed a case in the courts to stop children in his colony from playing in the park next to his house and to our surprise, the honourable court had decreed that the children were ‘restrained from using the park No. Block 2 of Vijay Mandal Enclave, Kale Sarai from playing foot ball/cricket or such other game or using it for any other purpose which is prohibited by law’ (Order 39 RI & 2CPC) and the Station House Officer (SHO) of the local police station was directed ‘to personally ensure no such nuisance was created by the defendants and to file a weekly report in the court after continuously monitoring the site’.

This case has now been going on for over a year and reams and reams of papers and documents have been generated. Precious time of courts which already has a huge backlog of judicial matters to contend with, has been lost. Time and energy of the SHO—the head of a police station—who should be using it maintain law and order, have been spent; not to even account for the money spent on fighting a legal battle. And all because children have claimed what is rightfully theirs—a colony park which is part of the ‘commons’ in an urban setting. And clearly this is not the only case.

The children’s right to play and access to these common spaces is being pitted against the requirements of elderly people to the same space, aesthetic concerns of maintaining ‘pretty’ green spaces and, of course, the demands of corporations who have invested in setting up training institutes and sports facilities, and hence need children to be using them.

Ishan is a young boy of about 14 years living next to a huge glitzy mall in Delhi. He is one of the boys that HAQ[1] has been working with. One day while talking to him, we asked him if he had ever entered the mall. With a wistful look he said ‘never’. Would he like to?—of course! A few days later the HAQ team took Ishan and his sisters to the mall. The security guard at the gate would not let them in. ‘We have orders not to let such children in’, they said. ‘You can go in, but not these children, others who come to the mall do not like it and will complain...’ Yet another common space, this time the global market space, that ‘some’ children do not have access to.

The study conducted by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights—Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan (NCDHR—DAAA) found that Dalit girl children in school were seldom allowed to use toilets and Dalit children were kept out of even functions like Independence Day. Dalit children in schools of Uttar Pradesh were also assigned menial caste-based tasks like cleaning the yard, filling up water buckets and cleaning the toilets, leading to other children treating them badly and considering them inferior. The morning assembly was invariably always conducted by dominant caste children. In the class, Dalit children were made to sit at the back and in some schools of Bihar on the barren floor while mats were given to dominant caste children. Even the notebooks and homework of the Dalit children were not checked by teachers. In secondary and higher secondary school, the survey found that teachers promote private coaching. But many Dalit children dropped out[2] as they could not afford private classes.[3] As if that is not enough, it is not unknown for Dalit children to have to sit outside the class room, not be touched or even served mid-day meals by dominant caste or even OBC cooks and not allowed to drink water from the school tap. The list of ‘commons’ inaccessible to them is endless.

Physically handicapped children are unable to access basic facilities like schools, public transport, play grounds and other common spaces such as theatres, cinemas etc. because of their disability and because these spaces are not designed to be accessible to the disabled. In the modern day context along with what has been interpreted as common property resources such as grazing lands, forests, ponds etc. newer spaces need to be included. These would include schools, hospitals, markets, religious and cultural spaces, and any other such spaces that children need and use. This chapter will discuss access to commons in the context of this wider definition of ‘commons’.

Schools as commons

Children dropout of school, or find themselves squeezed out of the education system because of the situation of the schools as well as because their own socio-economic status. Analysis of available data clearly indicates that it is some groups of children who are excluded or pushed-out more than others. Many others are unable to make in-roads into schools because they are poor.

Hence, despite its goal of ensuring every child was in school by 2007, 7.6 million children continue to be out of school, according to the Ministry for Human Resource Development.[4] According to some other estimates, almost 21 million children, that is, close to 17% of all children of primary school age (6—10 years), continue to be out of school. Of those in primary school, 52% are boys and 48% are girls. About one quarter of all children of primary school age live in urban areas and the remaining three quarters in rural areas.[5]

As the District Information System for Education (DISE report)[6] states, while almost 94% of habitations have got access to primary and 89% to upper-primary schools, it is important to see the retaining capacity of the education system. In other words, how many children are able go through with their education without having to dropout?[7] While the apparent survival rate has improved, more boys than girls survived up to class V, and the children enrolled in schools in urban areas were more likely to survive in school than their rural counterparts. A retention rate of 71% indicates that about 29% of children dropped out of schools before reaching grade V.[8] The average promotion rate is 83.76% and about 9.99 million children repeated elementary grades in 2005–06.

With the poor standard of many government schools, there is an increasing dependence on market forces to fill the educational deficit.[9] This is leading to a situation, described by P. Sainath, the acclaimed journalist, as one where ‘your educational attainment has very little to do with your quality as a student and everything to do with your ability to pay’.[10] According to the CABE Committee, almost 25% of secondary schools in India are now private, unaided schools, with students coming only from the privileged sections of society.[11] A huge 46% of all secondary school students are attending private schools.[12]

It was to ‘right’ this imbalance that in January 2004, the Delhi High Court passed an order saying that all schools should reserve 25% of the seats for poor and the Supreme Court passed an order in April 2004 directing schools that had received land from the government at concessional rates to admit 25% students from the economically underprivileged groups. Drawing from these, the Right to Education Act included the provision 25% reservation of seats for poor children in private schools (referred to in India as Public Schools).

Children of primary school age out of school (million) India 2000 and 2006

2000 2006 Change 2000 to 2006
Male 13.0 9.5 –3.5
Female 16.4 11.2 –5.2
Urban 5.0 3.7 –1.3
Rural 24.5 17.0 –7.5
Poorest 20% 9.4 9.8 0.5
Second 20% 8.5 5.3 –3.2
Middle 20% 5.2 3.1 –2.1
Fourth 20% 4.3 1.7 –2.6
Richest 20% 2.0 0.8 –1.3
Total 29.5 20.7 –8.7

Data sources: India MICS 2000, India DHS 2005–06 in International Education Statistics, Analysis by Friedrich Huebler

Exclusion is faced on the basis of gender, caste and ethnicity as well as religion. Even more important is the fact that the design of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), the flagship programme of the government is itself flawed and designed to exclude children from ‘equal opportunity to quality education’, as is the Right to Education Act that accommodates in law different streams of schooling for different students, thereby going against the very tenets of equality and equal opportunity based on same quality and availability. Hence even while promoting right to education for all, these are not designed to provide equal education for all. Much-advertised programmes, such as the Education Guarantee Scheme, promote parallel systems of education in which less qualified, under paid, local para teachers are replacing trained professional teachers. Also the practice of multi grade teaching, in which one teacher is responsible for teaching many classes, each of them overcrowded, continues, leading to children dropping out or more pertinently being pushed out of the schools by the system.

The differential access to the ‘school commons’ is manifested in education statistics in the country.

  • In rural areas 7.80% of children are out of school against 4.34% in urban areas;
  • The proportion of children out of school is relatively higher among those in the age category 11–13 years (8.56%) compared to those in the 6–10 years age category (6.1%);
  • Percentages of out of school boys and girls in the age group 6–10 years are 5.51% and 6.87% respectively. For the age group 11–13 years, the %age of out of school children is relatively higher among girls (10.03%) than boys (6.46%);
  • Amongst social groups, 9.97% of Muslim, 9.54% of ST, 8.17% of SC and 6.9% of OBC children are out of school;
  • 69% of the children out of school: Bihar (23.6%), U.P. (22.2%), West Bengal (9%), M.P. (8%) and Rajasthan (5.9%);
  • Bihar (3.18 million), U.P. (almost 3 million), West Bengal (1.2 million), M.P. (1.08 million) and Rajasthan (795,000) have the highest number of out of school children.

Ministry of Human Resource Development, Chapter on Elementary Education (SSA and Girls Education) for the XIth Plan Working Group Report, 2007, pp. 12.

Despite a recent increase in the number of girls attending school, gender discrimination is still evident in education in India. The traditional place of the woman is in the home and so many parents and children consider education for girls to be a waste of time, especially when the child can instead be working or performing domestic chores.[13] Only 38% of Indian women are literate and, at 64% for men, the gender parity in literacy rates amongst Indian women and men is one of the most unequal in the world.[14] The number of girls enrolled into schools, both at the primary and the upper primary level is less than boys. The average of 604 districts in 2005–06 indicates the Gender Parity Index (GPI) of 0.91 in primary school and 0.83 in the upper primary stage. Getting girls into school is only the first hurdle; once they are there, greater efforts need to be made to retain them through systematic monitoring of education quality.[15] But lack of toilets and distance from the home are other major reasons, particularly in the light of increasing levels of crimes against girls, sexual abuse and assault cases within the schools. According to information collected by DISE, not a single state has provided common toilets and toilets for girls to all of its schools. In 2005–06, 52% schools covered under DISE across 604 districts had common toilets in school, whilst only 37.40% schools had separate toilets for girls.[16]

Dropout rates too remain high amongst Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST)—59.42% for SC and 70.05 for ST in 2003–04 for classes I to VIII.[17] The proportion of SC and ST girls dropping out of school is even higher. Recognising the gravity of the situation, in 2007, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) came out with a Performance Audit of Educational Development of Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in India (Report No.14 of 2007). Examining two indicators of educational development, i.e. gross enrolment rate (GER) and gross dropout rate (GDR),[18] the audit report highlighted, among other things, alarming gaps in policy implementation in the Universalisation of Elementary Education (UEE) for the SC and ST children. The CAG report found that the gap in GDR between general candidates and Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe candidates, which was 6.7% and 15.1% in 2001–02, deteriorated to 10.4% and 16.6% in 2003–04 respectively. The range across states was between 0.04 to 28.98% in 2003–04 among SC children. Similarly, the dropout rate for ST boys & girls also increased in 2003–04 in several states with reference to 2001–02.[19]

In 2001–02, the government made education a fundamental right for children through the 86th Amendment to the Constitution, in which it put the onus of a child’s education on the parents as their fundamental duty to ensure that their children are in school. In a country like India, where a large section of the population lacks the means to send their children to school, the government’s dilution of its own responsibility towards providing education is a big blow. For the disabled children, who anyway face exclusion, it becomes even more difficult,[20] especially when the parents are poor and have no means. The Third Joint Review Mission of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan states that out of the total population of out of school children, the disabled were the largest in number, constituting nearly 38.11% of the total population.[21] On the basis of the survey, a child with disabilities would therefore appear to be twelve times as likely to be out of school as a child in the general population.[22] Girls with disabilities face double disadvantage and double discrimination.

Health facilities as commons

Right to health is not recognized as a fundamental right in our constitution. However, it has been recognized as one in all international human rights instruments that India has ratified. As with any right, the right to health is also about equal access to health care services. However, an examination of the disease burden clearly shows that some groups are more vulnerable than others. There is an uneven distribution of the disease burden as well as access to health services across regions and socio-economic and religious categories. Clearly, discrimination and exclusion continues to affect children’s health status.

Children’s health has never really found a space in the government’s efforts at improving health care in India. Usually subsumed in the government’s population control and family planning efforts, child health continues to be an extension of reproductive health care programmes. In the 1960s when the Family Planning Programme was at its peak, child health primarily implied immunisation. This continued till the mid-1970s as sterilisation was the main focus of the National Family Planning Programme. In 1979, when the Family Planning Programme was renamed the ‘Family Welfare Programme’, a number of initiatives were taken to improve the health and nutritional status of women and children. However, the child continued to be part of efforts directed towards ensuring safe birth and population control.

While there are a few paediatric hospitals, better known as children’s hospitals like the Kalawati Saran Children’s Hospital in Delhi, most are part of the facilities for family welfare or mother and child welfare. Most big hospitals of course have paediatric wards for their young patients. These are what we could refer to as the ‘health commons’.

India’s health care system at present is predominantly catered to by the private sector contributing 78.05% of the total health expenditure, while public sector accounts for 19.67% and external flows, 2.28%. Health expenditure formed 4.25% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).[23] Out of pocket expenditure, a huge burden that the people of India have to bear, constituted more than two third of total health expenditure in India during 2004–05. Component wise, about 66.10% was spent on out-patient care, followed by 23.48% on in-patient care, 3.43% on delivery and 2.83% on family planning services. In per capita terms Rs.564 was spent on out-patient care which was highest among all the services.[24]

When costs are so high and availability is scarce, discriminatory practices set in. The already marginalised find themselves pushed back even further. The problems of gender disparity manifest in various forms —declining female to male population ratio, social stereotyping, violence at the domestic and social levels, and continuing open discrimination against the girl child, adolescent girls and women in access to health care and nutrition. A strong gender bias in care seeking against female newborns is conspicuous at all levels of the health system. For example, for every two sick male newborns admitted to a facility, only one female infant was admitted.[25] Like in the case of education, the situation of children and the differential situation by socio-economic status reveals how accessible the health commons are to children.

Infant and child mortality rates still remain cause for alarm. The rates are much higher in rural than urban areas across the country. Each year, 26 million children are born in India. They constitute 20% of the world’s infants. Of them, 1.2 million die within four weeks of being born. This figure comprises a huge 30% of the 3.9 million global neonatal deaths. According to the report State of India’s Newborns,[26] India has the highest number of births as well as neo-natal deaths of any country of the world.

The geographical, socio-economic and gender differentials show the unequal access to what must be equal access to ‘common services’. The rate of neonatal mortality varies widely among the different states, ranging from 10 per 1,000 live births in Kerala to around 60 in Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. The undivided states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar together contributed over half of all new-born deaths in India in 2000, or roughly 15% of the entire global burden. The disease burdens too differ across states.[27]

SC and ST children have higher mortality rates. It is also higher among females. According to the National Family Health Survey–3, the under-five mortality rate is 88.1 for SC children and 95.7 for ST children, as compared to 59.2 for other children, revealing how continued caste and tribal-based discrimination still plays a key role in child survival.[28]

Unequal access to food is reflected in the high levels of malnutrition that persist despite India’s booming economy, being home to one in three malnourished children in the world. Severe malnutrition has claimed the lives of around 125 children under six years of age in four districts of Madhya Pradesh since May 2008. According to a petition filed recently in the Supreme Court by Right to Food Campaign, 64 Bhil tribal children have died of malnutrition in Satna district within the past four months. Similarly, Spandan, which works among the Korku tribe in Khalwa block of Khandwa district, has reported the deaths of 39 children in the past 45 days. The Saharia Mukti Morcha, which works with the impoverished Saharia tribe in Shivpuri and Sheopur districts, said 16 children had succumbed to malaria in Shivpuri and five in Sheopur over a few days in September 2010, because their immunity was destroyed by severe malnutrition. Most children belong to abysmally poor tribal families whose daily earnings—when they are able to find work as labourers—rarely cross Rs 50—70.[29] This is not the first time that children have been starving and dying in Madhya Pradesh. In 2006, UNICEF officials have claimed that the biggest reason for malnutrition is not a lack of food, but instead social aspects such as the low social status of women, early marriage and little gap between the birth of children.[30]

A similar picture can be seen in terms of households belonging to 90% of rural ST households in Assam, 79% in Arunachal Pradesh and 68% in Chhattisgarh being excluded from the PDS.[31] In striving for ‘efficiency’ by developing a narrow targeting system, the scheme has resulted in the exclusion of households that should be entitled to basic food security[32]—an issue which is becoming ever more serious in the wake of the current food crisis.

Displacement and loss of commons

Displacement and inadequate resettlement has not only resulted in a decrease in land holding among the evicted families but the loss of access to forest produce whether for consumption, as food, income generation, or for medicinal purposes. This has had severe impact on the very survival of the children. Reduced incomes due to displacement have meant lack of access to timely health care, loss of access to education and even results increasingly in children being forced out of school and into work.

Communities have depended on forests for their daily life for generations. With forests being declared reserved forests and sanctuaries tribals and others who depended on the forests lost access. This had an impact not only on the life and livelihood of the community as a whole, but children in particular. For example, children lost their homes, and subsequently their lives, to save the tiger and conserve forest cover in Melghat, which became a part of ‘Project Tiger’ in 1974 displacing and restricting access of the Korku Adivasi community to the forest and minor forest produce.

Malnutrition Statistics by Caste/Tribe–India–NFHS 3
In percent Children under 3 years
Scheduled Caste Scheduled Tribe Other Backward Classes Others
Stunted 44.1 44.3 39.2 31.1
Wasted 20.5 25.7 18.9 16.4
Underweight 52.2 56.7 46.4 37.3

Source: NFHS–3 2007

Although the government would like us to believe that the cause of malnutrition and mortality among Korku children is poverty and ignorance, it is clear that forced displacement, apart from loss of livelihood and forest produce, is one of the main causes. Close to 5000 Korku Adivasi children were reported to have died of malnutrition in the years 1992-1997. In 2004 NGO estimates pointed to a 1000 deaths while government figures totalled to 59.

A survey by the Punarvasan Sangharsh Samiti[33] in 22 villages and two resettlement sites of the Sardar Sarovar Project on the Narmada river, had brought to light some shocking findings, that further corroborate that forced evictions and loss of access to commons have huge negative impact on children.

In April, May and June 2005, 98 children died in the Akkalkuwa block alone. Of these, 71 children were malnourished. Of the malnourished children, 45 were found to be malnourished in the second stage. Obviously, the government has not accepted that the children died due to malnourishment. The cause of their death would be lost in the long list of such causes. The figures quoted here are obtained from the government under Right to Information. And yet, the study team found the government is unaware of the scale of malnutrition in the area. The government records only 10% of the malnourished children.

Not only are the children malnourished, but so were their mothers. The range of weights of fully-grown mothers has been found to be between 40-45 kgs. The number of girls is half the total, indicating the precarious condition in which the ‘future mothers’ are nurtured.

According to the Samiti, the root of this malady is deprivation from natural resources, i.e. resources of livelihood. The measures in fields like health, education, employment and supply do not create resources of livelihood and therefore these cannot be the decisive remedy of the situation. These would have to be supplemented with the measures in the sector of resources of livelihood, otherwise these peripheral communities face the danger of extinction.[34]

Child Death and Malnutrition in Resettlement Sites


No. of Child Death

Malnutrition Grade

Male Female Total Grade I Grade II Grade III Grade IV Total
April 24 19 43 11 16 0 3 30
May 11 15 26 5 13 1 0 19
June 15 14 29 5 16 0 1 22
Total 50 48 98 21 45 1 4 71

The forced eviction also impacted the children’s right to education. Around 6000 children used to study in government schools and private schools in Harsud, the town submerged by Indira Sagar Dam in Madhya Pradesh. In addition to the government college, there were eight government primary schools, three government middle schools, three higher secondary schools and six private schools in Harsud. These 14 government schools in Harsud have now been accommodated in two school buildings and a few tin sheds in New Harsud and a nearby village. Since the school buildings are not yet constructed, eight schools are held in the two school buildings in shifts. Seven other schools are being held in tin sheds. Surveys of 299 families living in the five sectors of New Harsud show that 25% of the children studying hitherto have dropped out from schools forever after displacement.[35]

Weight range of the mothers (village-wise)

Range 30 kg 30-35 36-40 41-45 46-50 50-55 > 56 Total










TOTAL 7 88 212 226 87 15 8 643

The last few years has seen some very large scale and brutal urban evictions. From December 2004 to March 2005, close to 4,00,000 people were forcibly evicted from various parts of Mumbai to ‘clean up’ or ‘beautify’ the city. A lesser noted fact is that among those evicted and made homeless overnight were close to 1,80,000 children as estimated by YUVA, a group working on housing and children’s issues in Mumbai.[36] Most of these children belong to Dalit, Adivasi and nomadic communities regarded as some of the most marginalised communities in the country. With no resettlement for a large section of those evicted, many families along with their children were forced to live in the open. Two children are reported to have died due to exposure to the harsh climatic and living conditions.

What better example of urban dislocation than what was witnessed in the wake of the Commonwealth Games when thousands of families have been evicted. The South Asia Regional Programme of the Housing and Land Rights network, Delhi has estimated that nearly 2,50,000 people in the city lost their homes as a direct result of the Games since 2004. The preliminary findings of the ongoing study[37] suggest that due process for demolition of homes in various parts of the city was not followed, in addition to police presence and use of force, injury and adverse health effects, loss and destruction of possessions, adverse effects on children, death, loss of livelihood and income and no compensation or resettlement offered to the evictees. The children have lost their rights to common resources. The press release notes, the psychological impacts on children who lose their homes and witness a demolition, are severe and long-lasting. Several children have been forced to dropout of school. Many have lost a year because the demolitions happened immediately before or during examination time. Pyarelal’s son lost an entire school year as the Dargah Bhure Shah Camp demolition took place on 14 May 2007, during school exams.

It is worth noting that 27,000 families displaced from Yammuna Pushta had come in as workers in 1980s for construction of the Games Village and stadiums when Delhi was to host the Asiad Games, and are now being ushered away in the follow-up to the Commonwealth Games in 2010.[38] Thus not only do they face loss of commons in the homes they have left in the villages, but once again where they had created a new access.

Inadequate and inappropriate resettlement which seems to have become the norm rather than an aberration, does nothing to restore the rights of these children to the ‘commons’ they are entitled to.

Basic facilities as commons

Water, sanitation, roads and basic infrastructure is integral to every child’s right to adequate housing and standard of living.[39] Water is the most basic of needs. And yet it is one common facility that divides any urban setting between those who have and those who don’t. Conflict over water at an urban water tap or a tanker, in which children and women are main contenders for the scarce resource, is an almost common sight in any city in India. Children, especially girls, spend hours standing in queues to fetch water when it ‘comes’, often having to miss schooling for this.

According to a United Nations survey, while over half a billion cell phones are active in India, enough to serve about 45% of the population, only 366 million people have access to a toilet, or only 31% of the population had access to improved sanitation in 2008.[40] When toilets are scarce, it is the children who have the least access—forced to defecate and urinate wherever they can find the space—on pavements, road sides, railway tracks, parks and open spaces in urban areas; and fields or forested areas etc in the rural areas. Needless to say this makes them vulnerable to abuse and violence, as also accidents and injury. As they grow older, girls find it harder and harder to find ‘private and safe spaces’, both in the rural as well as the urban areas.

Roads in India are child unfriendly, disabled unfriendly and old people unfriendly. Public transport is not designed for children. That is the reality. Footpaths if they at all exist, are too high, have no ramps or slopes. Hence yet another set of urban ‘commons’ that children find difficult to use.

Deciding for the commons

The dilemma of children and the commons is much more fundamental than just a matter of access to services. It arises out of treating children as ‘citizens of tomorrow’ when in reality they are citizens today, and as miniature adults, which they are not. Though the rallying cry of societies has been ‘women and children first’, and most people believe they are creating a better world for children—at least their children— the reality is that children’s rights and spaces are the first to be violated for adult needs.

Adults have traditionally determined usage, access and control over children’s spaces. It is assumed that children do not have the capacity to make a choice and hence little or no effort is made to determine what they may wish or want. In the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami, the schools and playgrounds of the children were taken over for mortuaries. The village community centres were spared because keeping cadavers there would defile the building. The schools of the children routinely double up as bunkers and forward posts in armed conflict. In conflict areas such as the North Cachar Hills were either being used as camps or given to the Security Forces to house their troops.[41] In Dantewada District of Chhatisgarh, children had lost access to schools caught in the crossfire between the state and the naxalites and the salwa judum. Police and security forces occupy them, and naxalites target them because they are government buildings.[42]

Children who live on common spaces in urban areas—streets, platforms, under flyovers and bridges find themselves vulnerable to abuse and exploitation on a daily basis. This is by other adults, older children and even their peers. What is the most dehumanising is the treatment meted out to them by the police that is meant to protect them. Homeless and vulnerable they may find themselves in institutions. But our experience of visiting homes for children, both government and non government and reports that appear in the media remind us again and again that these institutions set up for their safety are in fact unsafe and violent. The choice between the street and these homes is the proverbial choice between the devil and the deep water.[43]

The exclusion of children from decision making has led to their access to commons becoming even more tenuous. The standard argument has been that ‘when a community itself does not have rights, then how will the children have rights?’ This reflects the truth only partially. Children can and do have better insights and in some cases even better management skills than adults. They are socialised into the roles that they later exercise in life. Therefore the institutions of decision making can be made more democratic starting with children. In the traditional panchayats of the fishing community along the eastern coast of India, only the seagoing males from a particular community were included. There was stiff resistance to change. The children’s panchayat promoted by some NGOs had girls and boys of all communities. These children not only consider inclusion to be the norm, but were extremely successful in decision making even the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami. They could decide on the reconstruction and rehabilitation to a larger degree than in the traditionally governed villages, and even mediate with the local administration. Democratic structures can be built bottom up by including children.


For decades, commons and common property resources have signified natural resources and areas within villages such as pasture lands, forests, ponds, waste lands and other designated common resources. It has seldom, indeed never, been in the context of all children, wherever they are. This chapter has attempted to redefine common spaces and examine children’s rights in that context. It has examined only a few examples of what else could be defined as commons in today’s context, and is by no means comprehensive in its listing or interpretation. If we were to pick each basic service or facility and analyse its ‘child friendly quotient’, we will come up with a number of deficits leading to exclusions. The idea is to move towards redefining spaces and examining their accessibility to children as a right.


  1. HAQ: Centre for Child Rights is a not-for-profit organisation, started in October 1998 and formally registered in June 1999. HAQ seeks to recognise, protect and promote child rights, and believes that there is a need for realisation of human rights of children through policy, law and action. The recognition, protection and promotion of three rights form the cornerstone of HAQ’s work: the right to survival, the right to childhood and the right to equal opportunity.
  2. Children who ‘dropout’ are in fact pushed out by the system.
  3. Dalit kids cannot use school loo but have to clean them—India—The Times of India Accessed on September 6, 2010
  4. This information was given by the Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Shri M.A.A. Fatmi in reply to a question in Lok Sabha, Tuesday, April 29 2008.
  5. International Education Statistics, Analysis by Friedrich Huebler, Tuesday, November 13 2007. Accessed on September 7 2010.
  6. Arun Mehta, Elementary Education in India, Progress Towards UEE, Analytical Report 2005–06, Published in 2007, pp. 152 also see
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid, pp. 156
  9. Richa Nigam Inequality in India: Income, access to health care and education for the poor. Inequality-in-India-Income-access-to-healthcare-and-education-for-the-poor.html
  10. Ibid.
  11. Report of the CABE Committee, Universalisation of Secondary Education, 27 June 2005.
  12. Ibid.
  13. i-india. Gender discrimination.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ministry of Human Resource Development. Chapter on Elementary Education (SSA and Girls Education) for the XIth Plan Working Group Report. pp. 39.
  16. Education Statistics from DISE, 2005–2006.
  17. Ibid. pp. 14.
  18. Gross enrolment ratio is the percentage of the estimated child population in the age group 6 to 14 years enrolled in classes I–VIII. Since the enrolment in these stages may also include underage and overage children, the total percentage may be more than 100% in some cases. The GER of both SC and ST boys and girls in 2003–04 decreased with reference to 2001–02 in several states. Accessed on 13 August 2008.
  19. and 27072008GERGDRforSCST.htm. Accessed on 13 August 2008.
  20. See Ghai, Anita (2006), Education in a globalising era: Implications for disabled girls, Social Change, Vol. 36, No.3. pp. 161–176.
  21. Source:
  22. Ibid.
  23. National Health Accounts: India 2004–05, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  24. Ibid.
  25. State of India’s Newborn 2004s, National Neonatology Forum, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Govt of India, World Health Organisation (South East Asia Region), UNICEF India, the World Bank, Saving Newborn Lives, Save the Children–US.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Health Chapters in Children in India.Inc. 2005. and Still Out of Focus–Status of Children in India, 2008 . 2009. HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, New Delhi.
  28. National Family Health Survey, Chapter 7, 2007, pp 183.
  29. NGOs allege 125 malnutrition deaths in MP. Infochange. The Economic Times, September 14, 2008. Hindustan Times, September 13, 2008. IANS, September 2008.
  30. Geeta Pandey. Spotlight on India’s malnourished children. BBC News. 2 May 2006,
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid
  33. Punarvasan Sangharsh Samiti undertook the survey in 22 villages and has prepared the report, titled ‘Maranatach He Jag Jagate’, based on the outcome of the survey and information obtained through Right to Information.
  34. Status of Children in India.Inc. HAQ:Centre for Child Rights. 2005. pp 100-101.
  35. Savaging a civilization: NHPC and Madhya Pradesh government at Indira Sagar dam. A Report on the violations of the human and legal rights of Indira Sagar dam oustees, Madhya Pradesh. August 2004. Jan Sangharsh Morcha, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, SANDRP, Delhi, Manthan, Badwani, Sandarbh, Indore, Abhivyakti, Nasik.
  36. YUVA report ‘Mumbai Evictions (December 2004–March 2005) An Analysis of Impact in Twenty Eight Communities’, YUVA, Mumbai 2005.
  37. Press Release. New Delhi, October 13, 2010 .Forced Evictions due to Commonwealth Games Violate Human Rights, Contribute to a Permanent Negative Social Legacy. Housing and Land Rights Network.
  39. Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  41. in_NC_Hills.pdf
  42. Human Rights Watch. India. Dangerous Duty. Children and the Chhatisgarh Conflict.July 2008. Human Rights Watch New York. pp 50-55.
  43. See Blind Alley: Juvenile Justice in India. HAQ Centre for Child Rights 2009.