Skip to main content

India makes elementary education compulsory

  • Government must under law provide free elementary education to children ages 6-14
  • Abject poverty forces many children to work to supplement family income
  • Shortage of school and teachers along with low caste also factor as challenges

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- A new law went into effect in India Thursday making education a fundamental right for every child.

An estimated 8 to 10 million children between the ages of 6 and 14 do not attend school in India.

In most cases, the abject poverty many of these children live in necessitate they instead work to supplement their family's meager income.

In some cases, parents often frown upon sending daughters to school, and some rural areas deny children of lower castes access to education.

A shortage of school and teachers also compound the challenge.

I am what I am today because of education.
-- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
  • India
  • Education

But, said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act aims to ensure that all children "irrespective of gender and social category have access to education." It was passed last year.

The law obligates the government to provide free elementary education to every child between 6 and 14. It is expected to cost more than $35 billion (1.5 trillion rupees) over five years.

Singh said his government will partner with states so that "financial constraints do not hamper the implementation" of the law.

In his speech, Singh -- a Cambridge-educated economist -- recalled his childhood in a family of modest means.

"In my childhood I had to walk a long distance to go to school. I read under the dim light of a kerosene lamp. I am what I am today because of education.

"I want every Indian child, girl and boy, to be so touched by the light of education."