Report No. 259
Chapter - IV
National Policies and Schemes
4.1. The Indian State has been aware of the pressing need for action to improve the situation of young children in India by providing them better access to health, nutrition and education and by creating an environment more conducive to their proper development. However, no direct legislative initiatives have taken shape in this regard. Successive governments have relied instead on a range of executive policies and schemes, the most important of which are discussed in this Chapter.
4.2 The National Policy for Children 1974 - later reaffirmed by the National Charter for Children, 2003, and the National Policy for Children, 2013 - recognised that programmes for children should find prominent place in national plans for the development of human resources. It laid down that the State shall provide adequate services towards children, both before and after birth and during the growing stages for their full physical, mental and social development.
The measures suggested include a comprehensive health programme and supplementary nutrition for mothers and children, free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14 years, promotion of physical education and recreational activities protection of children from neglect, cruelty and exploitation, etc. The Policy was an extremely important step forward in the protection of children's interests, leading for example to the creation of the Integrated Child Development Services scheme (see below).
4.3 However, as the Policy document did not have binding legal status, it was not always effectively implemented. For example, although the Policy provided for formulation of programmes for crèches and other facilities for the care of children of working or ailing mothers, the Government did not attempt to formulate any such programmes to operationalize crèches for over a decade after the adoption of the Policy.
The National Policy for Education, 1986, specially emphasized investment for the holistic development of young children and gave priority to Early Childhood Care and Development amongst Child Development Services. The Policy also stressed the importance of establishing Day-Care centres for pre-school education to enable young girls engaged in taking care of siblings to attend school and women from poor families to earn additional income.
This Policy also provided for child-oriented play that fosters individuality, and discouraged any formal method of learning around the '3Rs' (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic). It thus tried to break the patriarchal notion of keeping the girl child at home as care giver of siblings and considered crèches as an alternative to enable the girl child to attend school. Here again, the fact that these provisions did not have legislative authority resulted in long delays in implementation.
It was only after the adoption of the National Plan of Action for Children, 2005, which reiterated the 1986 Policy in relation to crèches, that the Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers (RGNC) was formulated in 2006. Thus, it took more than 30 years to formulate a programme on crèches after the National Policy for Children was laid down in 1974.
4.4 The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, launched in 1975 pursuance of the National Policy for Children, 1974,is the chief public policy programme aimed at young children. The basic premise of ICDS, which is a centrally sponsored and state administered nationwide scheme, is the assertion that early childhood education and care are inseparable issues and must be considered as one. It thus adopts the holistic philosophy towards early childhood development that has been recognised both nationally and internationally.
The scheme was established with the following objectives:
(1) to improve the nutritional and health status of children in the age group of 0-6 years;
(2) to lay the foundation for proper psychological, physical and social development of the child;
(3) to reduce the incidence of mortality, morbidity, malnutrition and school dropout;
(4) to achieve effective co-ordination of policy and implementation amongst the various departments to promote child development; and
(5) to enhance the capability of the mother to look after the normal health and nutritional needs of the child through proper nutrition and health education.
The ICDS provides an integrated approach for converging several aspects of early childhood development by including supplementary nutrition, immunization, health check-ups, pre-school education, health and nutrition education for women, referred services to children below six years of age as well as expecting and nursing mothers.
The execution of the programme includes delivery of integrated package of minimum basic services - health care, nutritional nourishment and early childhood educational nurturance to children so as to reach a multitude of objectives including development of school readiness competencies and various others psycho social domains. All services under ICDS converge at the Anganwadi, which is the main platform for delivering these services.