‘Policy should be free and universal; not just for disabled children’

Concerned regarding the rights of children under the age of 6 years, civil society groups have asked the government to focus on a comprehensive approach towards providing a sound foundation for survival, growth, protection, development and early learning under the proposed Early Childhood Care and Education Policy.

The proposed ECCE policy, which would come as part of the restructuring of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, refers to programmes for children from prenatal to six years, which cater to the needs of a child in all domains of development, including physical, motor, language, cognitive, socio-emotional, and creative and aesthetic appreciation, and provides synergy with health and nutrition aspects.

The activists want the policy renamed as the Early Childhood Care and Development. In a written submission made to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD), the Alliance for Rights to Early Childhood Care and Development — comprised of grassroots-level academics practitioners and members of several networks across the country — it has said that the focus should be more on free and universal ECCE, because of a large number of children who live in marginalised and difficult circumstances, as against the affordable services as envisaged in the policy. There should be explicit listing of all the marginalised groups, to be considered before planning and budgeting, and not only with reference to children with disabilities.

Continuous care

Seeking more clarity on the critical sub-stages of childhood as each requires specific interventions, the group has suggested that early childhood should be divided into pre-natal to birth, birth to three, and to six years, with the needs and entitlements of the child at each stage in all domains stated comprehensively, with a focus on continuous care.

The group has suggested that the focus be on the child in the context of the family, and the child-mother as an inseparable unit, the recognition of the multiple responsibilities of women, and the need to address their requirement of childcare support, and maternity entitlements across sectors to enable breast feeding, and safety, protection and optimal development of child.

The present policy focuses on the child without the context of family, and there is no mention of women as mothers, the submission said.

Accountability

“The policy should make a conscious attempt to develop the understanding that the ECCE is the responsibility of both parents as well as the community, and not only that of the mother,” the letter says, adding that government, private and the non-governmental sectors should be involved in the delivery of services with multiple models made available.

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