I. Importance of Children
The Bible gives importance to children.  The cry of baby Moses paved the way for deliverance of Israel.[1]  Moses refused to leave the children and go for worship in the wilderness, which provoked Pharaoh further.[2]  In Moses’ law, teaching children is prominent.[3]  God used children like the servant girl in Naaman’s house.[4]  The Lord Jesus rebuked His disciples who tried to stop the children from coming to Him and even challenged the listeners and disciples to become like children.[5]  Children are precious in God’s eyes.

II. Understanding Children in India
Children in India cannot be described as a monolithic group.  There are various differences among them.  It is possible to classify them like this:  Elite, upper middle class, lower middle class, poor, very poor and deprived.  Each category of these children is different in various aspects and so each has different kinds of attitude, aptitude and mindset.  Different kinds of strategies, therefore, are required to reach them.

2.1 Elite
Elite children generally live in cities and come from very rich families.  They generally attend the best schools in the country, preferably an international school located in hill stations.  The medium of education is English and they receive the best possible education by international standards.  They choose careers by gaining entry into prestigious institutions like Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indian Institute of Management (IIM), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), etc.  Those who do not get entry into these institutions generally study in some Western institutions, as they can afford to pay such fees.

Reaching these children with the Gospel of Christ is really difficult, but possible, as Christian teachers who teach them become powerful witnesses.  Many Christian teachers, however, do not teach at this level of high school education.

2.2 Upper Middle Class
The children in the next category do not have the privilege of studying in the best international schools, but are able to study in the best schools in the cities.  They study in Central Board schools with English as their medium of education.  They also get lot of exposure and are sure to score high marks to gain entry into the top tier higher education center or the next level of higher education centers like Regional Engineering Colleges, Central varsities, etc.

Many of these city schools are still run by the Roman Catholic Church and various protestant churches.  But the demand for such education increased and the church institutions did not multiply as group of schools, like many privately managed groups of schools have emerged.  So, the Christian influence on these children has been drastically reduced.  Instead there are schools like the DAV group of schools that have gained reputation among Hindus where children are taught to be biased against minorities.  It is no wonder the political affiliation of the urban middle class has tilted towards the right wing ideology and identity politics.

2.3 Lower Middle Class
These are children of parents who strive to move up the social and economic ladder.  They wish to give their children the best education and they can afford to send their children to schools that are next in the hierarchy.  Here the teachers are generally not convent educated.  Though these schools claim to be English medium schools, they are more likely to be bi-lingual schools.  And though these children work hard and score good marks, they may lack skills like English conversation.  They may not be able to crack the entrance exams conducted by reputable institutions.

These children are open for help and parents would prefer less expensive tuitions.  Offering these children English coaching and life-skills coaching would create open doors for evangelism.  Taking these children to camps, or coaching in sports or arts or crafts, would provide open doors during summer vacations.

2.4 Poor
This category of children is poor, as they are born of poor parents.  They generally belong to oppressed castes or live in rural areas.  The only possible way for education is to attend schools run by the government.  These schools in many areas are described as schools without teachers, or schools without teaching, or schools without children.  The midday meals provided by the government have improved many poor children in that they get at least one square meal every day.

Again these children need much help for their education.  Since most parents are not highly educated and they do not consider education for children a priority, they do not send their children regularly to school and cannot help them in their homework and studies.  These children need help in basic education, which could be supplemented by evening classes in the local churches.  That would provide opportunities for developing relationship with these families.

2.5 Very Poor
The next category includes children from very poor families, whose parents are also illiterates.  They also belong to oppressed castes and tribes.  Generally, they live far away from schools.  If their parents are migrant workers, they journey from their native places for six to eight months and come back just for four to six months.  Therefore these children do not fit into the academic calendars of schools.  They are in and out of school and lose their place in school for lack of attendance.  Most of these children end up as illiterates.

Reaching these children would be a great challenge.  Providing them with bridge schools would help the children catch up academically and be able to join the regular schools.

2.6 Deprived Children
This is another category of children.  They are street kids, child beggars and child laborers.  Some children run away from their homes in villages and end up as street kids in the cities.  They become child beggars and child laborers working in shops to gain a livelihood.  These street kids become victims of sexual abuse and violence and made into drug pushers.  Some children become bonded laborers in hazardous factories due to the poverty of their parents.  They may have skills, but end up as illiterates.

Two million children in India die and turn into statistics every year.  That is about 6,000 deaths every day.  Abject poverty, lack of basic health care facilities and poor health of rural women are all killing India’s underprivileged and malnourished children.  The country has consistently has let down children, and today malnutrition rates in India are even worse than Sub-Saharan Africa.[6]  Health and Family Welfare Minister Anbumani Ramadoss told Lok Sabha (the lower house of India’s Parliament) that 69.5 percent of children in the age group of six to 59 months are suffering from anemia.  63 per cent of children in urban areas and 71.5 per cent children in rural areas suffer from anemia.[7]

III. Understanding Missions to Children
Children in India are socially considered to be part of the family.  In the majority of homes, they do not have much freedom of choice.  Even children belonging to elite and upper middle classes have limited freedom.  So reaching children is a delicate task and should be done wisely.  There is a need to influence the children as well as parents simultaneously for effective mission.

 
The needs of children are different for the various categories of children.  Meeting the needs of these children would provide right relationship and context for effective mission.

The marketing forces consider children as a separate people group and target children.  They have advertisements to gain brand loyalty and encourage children to influence decisions of their parents.  The secular world uses television and print media by producing exclusive channels, magazines, and cartoon books for children.  The media apparently fulfills the aspirations of these children.  Ministries for children have not yet developed such tools for effective communication of the Gospel and its values to children.

Children live under tremendous pressure.  In 2006, 5,857 students — or 16 a day — committed suicide across India due to exam stress.  And these are just the official figures.  Incidents of children committing suicide because of examination stress often did not get reported as traumatized parents wanted to keep the issue under wraps. Scores of youngsters seek counseling before and after the exam season and have to be put on medication.  It is not only board exams that get stress levels soaring in students.  Entrance tests to professional courses that require extra coaching also have the same effect.  It is the combination of entrance tests and board exams that some students are finding difficult to handle.[8]

 
IV. Developing Appropriate Strategy
Children of different categories have different aspirations and needs.  Even the languages they prefer are different.  Different ministry tools need to be developed for effective missions, like good evangelistic tools, teaching tools, audio and visual tools, media ministries, etc.  There are several good models that have emerged in various parts of the country to reach out to children.  These models have to be affirmed, and if possible, replicated in other parts.  The internet is emerging as a major media and there is a need there for Christian mission for children as well.  Virtual community websites with Christian values must be developed in India.

While youth ministry focuses on the next generation, children’s ministry focuses on the third generation.  If children are neglected today, the youth ministry will become formidable and challenging tomorrow.  It would be wise for the church to focus on the children within as well as those outside the church.

 
[1] Exodus 2:6
[2] Exodus 10:10
[3] Deuteronomy 6:6-9
[4] II Kings 5:1-5
[5] Matthew 19:113-15
[6] Mridu Bhandari, “In booming India, hunger kills 6000 kids daily”  http://www.ibnlive.com/news/in-booming-india-hunger-kills-6000-kids-daily/62220-17.html accessed on 29 March 2008.
[7] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/70_children_in_India_anaemic /articleshow/2841771.cms accessed on 6th March 2008.
[8]  Anahita Mukherji, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Around_6000_students_ killed_self_in_06/articleshow/2872298.cms accessed on 17th March 2008.