The Government had adopted the National Policy for Children, 2013 on 26th April 2013. The Policy recognised every person below the age of eighteen years as a child1 and covers all children within the territory and jurisdiction of the country2. It recognizes that a long-term multisectoral and integrated approach is necessary to secure the rights of children. The Policy has identified four key priority areas: survival, health and nutrition; education and development; protection and participation, for focused attention. As children are not a homogeneous group and their different needs need different responses, especially the multidimensional vulnerabilities experienced by children3, the Policy calls for purposeful convergence and coordination across different sectors and levels of governance.
However, since there was no clear-cut discussion on the clauses from its inception, the policy document is different from Act. It gives ideas about different sectors but is not justifiable in court as it falls under the category of Directive Principles of State Policy4. There should be a right-based approach5, that is, we need to fight for different acts so that they are enforced in court. This paper talks about the recommendations that could be implemented with a special focus on child education.
The policy of alternative care as implemented in international guidelines has to be implemented in the nation. There should be a policy regarding migrant children as it ratifies to various UN conventions6. There should be inter-country coordination and it needs to be considered whether childhood is universal and whether the approach towards childhood is homogenising. There is no mention of child participation forums which I believe will not only make the forum robust but also instil responsibility amongst children. Integration of mental health policy in primary health care is needed as the policy talks of ‘mentally alert’7 children. The society should play an integral role like the family during the child’s birth. There should be continuity of care. Initiatives like maternity leave should be made inclusive of this policy. It was observed that it is very difficult to put the Child Labour Act into implementation as child labourers are socially accepted. This happens in the case of child artists. Since overriding effects are undesirable, the policy needs to recognise the grey areas.
In Education and Development, clause 4.6(ii) ensures that every child in the age group of 6-14 is in school and enjoys the fundamental right to education as enshrined in the Constitution but what about the children of age above 14 years? Children from the age group 14-18 are more vulnerable to child labour and crime against children8. RTE should include age groups up to 18 years of age. In 4.6(iii), “Affordability” is a vague term. Education should be accessible and compulsory to all, irrespective of socio-economic affordability. In the very next sub-clause, “Gender-specific”, the word itself is discriminatory as equality and gender-fluid ideas should be taught. Vocational training should be based on the interest of the students and should be job- oriented9. It should not be determined by gender, caste or age.
Government schools face a lot of dropouts10 and irregularity in maintaining data, it is the duty to ensure that all out of school children have access to their right to education11, however till now ‘no’ body has been assigned job for checking the number of children enrolled in schools, attending schools regularly, dropouts and have a comparative detailed analysis. Therefore, the government and other social groups should take up this responsibility. When we talk of prioritising education for disadvantaged groups12, assigning various jobs to government organs is needed. For urban educational staff, municipal bodies and for rural areas panchayats should be held responsible. In the Constitution of India, it is not mentioned as a work of urban local body hence Constitutional amendment is required. School structure should be child friendly to ensure safety and mental freshness of the children13.
One of the main reasons for drop-out from school is because of the diversity of languages spoken in rural India. The nexus between the languages written in books and the colloquial language spoken is missing and therefore they lack interest and drop-out of schools14. Therefore, the students face problems in understanding the textbooks. The problem heightens when the teacher too cannot interpret the languages spoken15. To ensure that all processes of teaching and learning are child-friendly16, local, educated and trained youths should be appointed to bridge the gap of bookish language and that of textbooks. To promote safe and enjoyable engagement of children’s experiences17, except the rout learning need of introducing creative ways of teaching for better understanding. Appointing more women teachers may make the education system globally competitive and prevent drop-outs.18 Despite the policy asking to especially focus on mental health19, mental growth and mental health of children were grossly neglected in most of the schools. Awareness regarding mental health should be promoted. The “stigmas” related to mental health and ailments need to be broken by including in textbooks.
To enable children to develop holistically20, primary healthcare centres could be merged with the health centres of school to ensure good facilities as healthcare centres for school do exist but are not functional in many states and rural areas. There are huge inequalities between the public and private sectors in healthcare21. Mother and children are not mentioned in Right to Health and hence needs to be included.
Since no special steps have been taken that “every child” has access to “free” education, and the state cannot be held accountable for education-related issues, the legislature should come up with stricter acts to curb this issue. Education needs to be taken to the backward regions for more development. Different policies should be construed keeping in mind the difference in vulnerabilities faced in rural and urban regions. Patriarchal systems should be addressed and inequalities should be broken22. Families should be provided with support from society during a child’s birth and the child’s growth. There should be judicial reforms- enough POCSO courts, speeding of judicial system, witness protection scheme, compensation provided quickly, etc. Panchayat members should be trained to prevent child labour.
Every child has the right to a dignified life, free from exploitation23. We must understand that child labour cannot be drastically stopped as children obtain their livelihood from the work they do, hence it should be gradually removed by first providing the child with basic amenities and uplifting the economic condition.24 Lastly, it needs to be observed whether childhood has been wrongly defined. Child means a person not having maturity as that of an adult. Even a person above 18 years of age may lack the maturity. Childhood is a social construction. The different vulnerabilities of a child vary with society. Childhood is not universal.25
1 Preamble, National Policy for Children (2013). 2 Clause 2.2, National Policy for Children (2013). 3 Preamble, National Policy for Children (2013). 4 Article 39(f), Constitution of India.
5 Clause 1.4, National Policy for Children (2013).
6 Clause 2.1, National Policy for Children (2013).
7 Clause 1.3, National Policy for Children (2013).
8 UN Study on Violence Against Children, UN Secretary General in the UN General Assembly August, 8, 9, 11 (2006).
9 Educational Statistics at a Glance (2018).
11 Clause 4.6(v), National Policy for Children (2013).
12 Clause 4.6(vii), National Policy for Children (2013).
13 Clause 4.6 (viii), National Policy for Children (2013).
14 The National Sample Survey Office Reports, 71st round (2015).
15 Geetha B. Nambissan, Language and Schooling of Tribal Children: Issues Related to Medium of Instruction,
29, Economic and Political Weekly, (1994).
16 Clause 4.6(viii), National Policy for Children (2013).
17 Clause 4.6(xii), National Policy for Children (2013).
18 Study conducted by Indian Institute of Education in rural Maharashtra (2006).
19 Clause 4.6(x), National Policy for Children (2013).
20 Clause 4.6(xiv), National Policy for Children (2013).
21 Charu C. Garg, Equity of Health Sector Financing and Delivery in India, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, (1988).
22 Sheetal Paul, Social Construction of Gender in School,3, International Journal of Social Science Special Issue,
23 Article 21, Constitution of India.
24 A Future Without Child Labour, Global Report, International Labour Conference, 90th Session, (2002).
25 Sultana Ali Norozi, Torill Moen, Childhood as a Social Construction, 6, Journal of Educational and Social Research (2016).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Radhika Ghosh is an undergraduate student from Hidayatullah National Law University. She is currently in her first year, and keeps keen interest in legal research and policy making.