Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Child Welfare Plan

Children constitute a major percentage of India’s population. It is, therefore, necessary not only to make these vibrant and strong resources of the country, beneficiaries of, but also, valuable partners in the process of the country’s planning and development. In order that young men and women are able to contribute towards national development in a significant way, it is important that they should be able to effectively participate in the process of decision-making. Towards this end, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has in the recent past announced several plans so as to keep pace with the fast changing socio-economic scenario and also to address the emerging concerns of the youth.

11th Five-Year Plan’s Provision
The Planning Commission has approved a mega scheme of Rs. 1,800 crore for the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12) to provide scholarships to 25 lakh students belonging to the minority communities in the Class VI and X. This is a first pre-matric scholarship scheme for students of minority communities. Already Rs. 80 crore has been provided in the Union Budget for 2007-08 but in absence of a scheme plan, the money was not utilised.

Under the scheme, devised by the Planning Commission and the Ministry, the basic eligibility criterion is that the annual income of parents should not be more than two lakh rupees. The scheme will be applicable for all students, irrespective of whether they are studying in a Government or a private school.

The pre-matric scholarship would boost conventional education among minorities, especially Muslims, whose schools enrolment rate is among the lowest in the country.

Cooked Meals
Despite the proven wisdom and strong opposition from experts, the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, headed by Renuka Choudhury, wants to do away with cooked meals for children in the 3-6 age group under the Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). Instead, the Ministry is pushing ahead with its plans to feed children in anganwadis with pre-packed food—though labelled nutrient-rich and fortified. The matter comes to a head since there are allegations that commercial forces may be at work vis-a-vis the procurement of pre-packaged food. The proposed move has come in for severe criticism from several quarters.

However, the Steering Committee has come out with a list of interventions to improve the present SNP programme. This includes frequent meals in adequate quantity and with adequate nutrients in the form of animal proteins (milk, eggs, meat, fish), fruits and vegetables. Some thought has also gone into the Take Home Rations (THR) issue. The Committee wants carefully designed rations based on locally-procured food to be delivered every week. At present, THR is in only one form, grain. It has also been suggested that THRs be combined with nutrition counselling for parents, to ensure that the food is kept for child rather than distributed among the family.

Anganwadi Scheme
The Anganwadi Scheme, officially known as Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), is the only major national scheme that addresses the needs of children under six. As things stand, less than half of these children are registered under the ICDS. The UPA Government’s Common Minimum Programme (CMP) clearly states that it will universalise ICDS to provide a functional Anganwadi in every settlement and ensure full coverage for all children.

In this direction Tamil Nadu is the only State where child nutrition has been a political priority for many years. Every sample Anganwadi in the State had an effective feeding programme, and almost all the sample mothers were satisfied with the quality as well as the quantity of the food.

Education for All
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2008, which has introduced in the Rajya Sabha, has been drafted either without a thought or a pre-election eye-wash for the common man. Because if by chance it ever becomes law its implementation would be a hard task.
It is undeniable that it is the fundamental right of every child to get sufficient education minimum for making his/her working life viable. The Bill envisages that the State provides education to children belonging to the economically weaker section of the society at an affordable cost or free of charge.
However, the Bill does not bear in consideration few basic aspects like income generated by children in poor household and focus on quality education. The livelihood of an underprivileged family also depends on the income contributed by the children. It is very well to prohibit the employment of children. It is very well for countries overseas to discourage the import of goods in the manufacture of which child labour is employed. In a family, the income generated by four children (in the age group of 11 to 17 years) exceeds that of their parents. If these children are prevented from working, the family’s livelihood would become unviable. Such a step could go to the extent of partly starving the family. For the last several years, it has been widely accepted in Government circles that teaching a child costs about Rs 1,500 per month ie Rs 18,000 per annum. Since then the Sixth Pay Commission has increased the salaries of school staff by 60 per cent. Rs 18,000 of recent years has now, therefore, become Rs 28,000. Assuming that salary levels will be lower in other parts of India, let us take Rs 25,000 as a broad average. Between the age of 6 and 14 there must be some 12 crore children in India. If this be so, the Bill under consideration entails an annual total expenditure of Rs 3 lakh crore or about half the national Budget.
The ChallengesThe Congress President Sonia Gandhi had asked the Government to double its initiative to achieve the Education for All (EFA) goal set by the UN by 2015. She said that there are many countries smaller in size but their literacy rates of more than 90 per cent, and also nations that were contributing heavily to world literacy. Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, three highly-populated countries, continue to face major challenges—both in terms of the high numbers of illiterates and the deep disparities that exist between urban and rural areas.

It is clear from the experience of Delhi that the Government does not have the confidence to offer quality education. There are more seats in Government schools today than there is demand for them. There is a widespread feeling amongst the parents that if they want their children to study well, they should go to a private school. And the Government has compelled private schools into taking economically weaker section children on a free-ship basis. The result is a paradox: On one hand there will be seats without students in Government schools while on the other students without benches in the private schools.

No comments: