India raises its children

Threatened childhoods

India, land of children
(Text: Thomas Müller, July 2009; Photos: Cora Basfeld and Thomas Müller)

India is a young country. About 40% of all Indians are less than 15 years old. 17 to 18 million children are born in one year. Every fifth child on earth lives in India. With over a billion people, with many different religions, languages ​​and cultures, India is not just a subcontinent, but a continent. A comprehensive description of childhood in India is almost impossible.

In India there is hardly anyone who does not want to have children - regardless of social class. The desire to have children is perhaps the only common characteristic that Indian couples have in common.

Numbers that are terrifying

India is one of the fastest developing countries in the world. During the last five-year plan, the Indian economy is said to have increased by eight percent and poverty has decreased noticeably. Child mortality has decreased.

Nevertheless, the Indian Nobel Prize for Economics, Amastya Sen, calculated that never before in economic history has so much growth been achieved with so little benefit for the poor as India has over the past 20 years. In the past two decades, 40 million children are said to have died of malnutrition in India, 1.7 million in a single year (2011). The malnutrition of the children is not only related to the low income of many Indians, but also to the very young age of many mothers at the time of the birth of their first child, to the lack of clean water, a lack of sanitation and poor eating habits.

Most children die in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In Madhya Pradesh child mortality is as high as it is anywhere else in the poorest Africa.

(Montek Singh Ahluwailia, Head of Planning of the Indian Government, Die ZEIT, No. 25, July 25, 2013, p. 21)

Children are, as it were, "both a blessing and a curse". You are loved and adored. When parents can afford it, they often indulge their children excessively and try to grant their every wish. More and more people are only counting on one or two children. At the same time, middle-class values ​​come to the fore: everyone would like to have a small car, a house and a washing machine. For poor families, children are a safeguard for the future, especially if they have many sons who help support the family. But children can also mean ruin, especially when it comes to girls who (have to) spend huge sums of money on their trousseau at the wedding, so that their families are in debt for generations to come.

The more educated a daughter is, the more she is worth. This is why some families have absolutely no interest in the schooling of their daughters in order to prevent their "value" from increasing even further.

Children from Hindu families are considered "pure" up to the age of 5. They are denied the ability to differentiate between "good" and "bad". That is why (moral) education only begins after this age.

Children are pampered and hardly denied a wish. At the same time, respect for the elderly plays a major role in upbringing. Obedience and adjustment are expected beyond the family space.

Children from poor families often have a hard time. You are left to your own devices. In the first years of life, they accompany their mothers' daily activities on their backs, or they play and crawl on the floor, often on the street. Children are involved in gainful employment as early as possible, for example in begging at crossroads. They take on simple tasks on garbage dumps or in quarries. Children from poor families grow quickly into the prevailing work and poverty system. It is not uncommon for children to be overwhelmed, exploited, abused and even abused. It is not uncommon for them to flee their families. They run away and become street children. Others are sold to child traffickers. The parents sometimes do this in the gullible hope that the children will be better off elsewhere. What counts above all is the money that child trafficking brings in. Many children were barely ten, eleven, or twelve years old when they were expelled from their families. Now you have to see for yourself where to stay and how you can get by.

Schooling is compulsory for all children in India, at least in theory. In practice, however, this obligation is neither observed nor controlled. State schools are often not of good quality. Teachers beat their students, the children do not come to class. Many teachers are not properly trained and poorly paid. They make most of their money with tutoring outside of school. In 2004 India advocated that education should be free for all. But only 14 states have implemented this goal so far. Wealthy Indians who can afford it send their children to private school. (more?)