The NCPCR claims its recommendations for community-based entitlements for malnourished children have been left out of the Food Security Bill draft

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) claims to have been “stunned to see that its submissions to the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (2012-14) on critical issues of children’s food and nutritional security have not found place in the Committee’s 27th Report — The National Food Security Bill, 2011 (NFSB) which guarantees some legal entitlements to the population at large”.

The NCPCR has noted that it is widely acknowledged that 46 per cent of the country’s children in the age group of below six years are malnourished: “It was hoped that the Standing Committee would seize the opportunity of drafting the NFSB to remedy the bane of malnourishment in the country. Instead, even the entitlements provided for children in the NFSB were dropped.”

“More specifically, the universal and unconditional maternal entitlements enabling exclusive breast-feeding to babies for the first six months of life that was provided for in the NFSB is now withdrawn,” said NCPCR chairperson Shanta Sinha, adding that ignoring the importance of exclusive breast-feeding would only perpetuate child mortality and malnutrition. “This is unjust and violates the fundamental right to equality.”

She said: “On the contrary, the Committee imposed the two-child norm denying entitlements to the third born and higher order of babies in ‘order to encourage stabilisation of population’.”

Further highlighting the shortcomings in the report of the Committee, the NCPCR has noted that the group has imposed that the maternity benefits are to be availed by the pregnant woman after ‘three months into pregnancy’. “This will prevent these entitlements from coming into play for the entire period of six months post-delivery,” pointed out Ms. Sinha.

Meanwhile for children under two years, the Committee has recommended that no ‘Take Home Rations’ may be needed as they recommend replacement with food grains to the family. Stating that this is clearly an irrational withdrawal from existing entitlements under the Supreme Court rulings in the Right to Food Case, the NCPCR has pointed out: “Experience of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) program clearly shows that food for children is not the same as for adults. The provisions for quality food as exist in the ICDS policy are to be made available through law.”

The NCPCR claimed to have made specific recommendations to the Committee on facility and community-based entitlements for malnourished children, legal status for ICDS, honouring Supreme Court rulings pertinent to children, inclusion of pulses and oils in entitlements, etc. but “these have not found reflection in the Committee’s Report”.

“We had hoped that this Bill would deliver serious legal underpinnings to efforts being made to ensure children’s right to food and nutrition. However, the recommendations of the Committee do not even accommodate existing entitlements in law and policy, leave alone create a vision for the future,” said Ms. Sinha.

“We feel that the country’s children, especially in the 0-6 years age group, have largely been uncovered in terms of legal entitlements in the report/recommendations of the Committee on NFSB. We now hope that Parliament will give serious consideration to these issues,” she noted.