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Report No. 259

Early Childhood Development and Legal Entitlements

Chapter - I

Concept and Importance

1.1 The development of young children is now increasingly recognised as a development and human rights issue of critical national importance. The statistics on the malnutrition and neglect of young children in India today cannot be ignored, and their significance for the nation's overall human resources cannot be overemphasized.

However, the State's response to the problem has been slow so far. It was in response to rising voices demanding greater attention from the State on the issue of 'Early Childhood Development (ECD)' that the Government came out with a comprehensive 'Nation Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy, 2013'.

1.2 The National ECCE Policy, 2013, defines early childhood as 'the formative stage of the first six years of life'. According to the globally and nationally held view, the 'Right to Early Childhood Development (ECD)' means the right of the child to survival, growth and holistic development, and the right to inputs that will make such development possible - care, love, nurturing, protection, health, nutrition, stimulation, play and learning.

1.3 Early childhood, spanning from birth to the age of six years, is the period that sees the most rapid growth and development of the entire human lifespan. It is during this period that the foundations of cognitive, physical and socio-emotional development, language and personality are laid. Brain development is most rapid during this phase - 90% of brain growth takes place before the age of 5 years.1

It is also the phase of maximum vulnerability as deprivation can seriously impact a child's health and learning potential. Research has shown high risks of impaired development of young children due to malnutrition, disease, poverty, social exclusion and the lack of a conducive environment.

1 Giedd, Jay, N (2004), "Structural Magnetic Resource Imaging of the Adolescent Brain", Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1021 (1)77-85, doc:0:1196/Annals, 1308.009

1.4 This critical period up to the age of six years is a 'window of opportunity', i.e., if the child receives favourable environmental inputs of health, nutrition, learning and psychosocial development, the chances of the child's brain developing to its full potential are considerably enhanced. If the environmental experiences are unfavourable and the child faces deprivation or emotional or physical abuse, the brain's development is negatively affected and the 'window of opportunity' is lost, often irrevocably.

The concept of a right to Early Childhood Development (ECD) emphasizes that young children need simultaneous inputs of care, nutrition and health as well as opportunities for psychosocial development, play and learning in an enabling and protective environment.2 Since development is interdependent and synergistic in nature, these inputs need to be provided to the child simultaneously across all stages of early childhood as the level of development in each stage affects the level of development in the next.

2 See Sections 3.4, 5.2.3 and 10.9 of the National Policy for Early Childhood Care and Education, 2013.

1.5 As per the 2011 Census, India has 158.7 million children in the age group of 0-6 years, comprising about 16% of the total Indian population. In the period 2008-2013, 43% of India's children under 5 were underweight and 48% had stunted growth. According to a World Bank Report published in 2013, the mortality rate of children under 5 years of age is 53 per 1000 live births3 and according to a 2013 UNICEF Report4, more than 60 million children under 5 are stunted.

Less than half the women in the country are provided any form of support during their pregnancies, deliveries and lactation, which has a significant impact on a child's health and growth during the early part of its life. Moreover, a quarter or less of children in India receive adequate health care.

3 Available at

4 2013 UNICEF Report: Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress based on National Family Health Survey, 2005-2006, and UNICEF Global Databases available at

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